Staying involved in Irish politics from afar
I would urge all Irish people living abroad to re-engage with the political system in Ireland and call for a vote in elections, regardless of whatever political hue you may have, writes Eoin Neylon
Over the past few weeks and months there has been much debate about the diaspora and voting rights in Irish elections. In an Irish Times article published on Tuesday, January 22nd, Diaspora deserve vote in presidential polls to select who represents them, Fergal Davis wrote on how the role of the President, in his capacity as an international representative of the people, directly affects me and all Irish people. I completely agree and it’s comforting to know that the opinion of the Irish people and all political parties seem to reflect this position. However, it is his comments regarding Seanad representation I have an issue with.
There are two key points on which I disagree with Mr Davis. Firstly he makes the point that he chose to leave Ireland and as a result has effectively given up his vote. What this neglects is the fact that many more of us did not have the luxury of making a decision but had to emigrate in order to find work, relevant experience and, in many cases, to avoid being a burden on the state. We do not wish to relinquish our vote as well, something many would consider as a relevant link to our home.
The second point he makes is in relation to representation without taxation. He contends that, as he does not pay tax, he should not have a say on how Irish taxpayers’ money is spent. This is a fair point, but a Senator, by virtue of Articles 20, 21 and 22 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, cannot vote down or amend a Money Bill (any Bill from the Dáil that deals with taxation measures and others measures of a financial nature). In essence, a Senator does not by in large interfere with exchequer funding.
With a debate over the future of the Seanad on the horizon, I echo Mr Davis’ comments in that he does not support its abolition. A reformed, non-partisan, expertise based Seanad should make available seats to the diaspora. We have a wealth of experiences, skills and ideas that may be of huge benefit to Ireland but we do not have a voice. The majority of us wish to return, and want the country we come back to to be a prosperous one.
Irish people, particularly young Irish abroad, retain an interest in Irish politics, and are also getting politically active in their new countries of residence. Here in London, a young Dubliner Christine Quigley ran for Labour in the London Assembly elections last year. I have friends involved in the Liberal Democrats also.
I know Irish people active in politics in the USA, most notably through the Washington-Ireland Program, who campaigned in recent elections there. Australia is also beginning its own Irish political renaissance in recent times as more emigrants get actively involved in politics ‘Down Under’.
But many others, myself included, want to do more to get our voices heard at home. To that effect, given our shared view-points, we sent up a London Fianna Fáil cumann in order to give weight to our opinions. Following the lead set by the SDLP and Sinn Féin in the British capital, we have sought to represent all Irish people both here in London, across Britain and at home in an effort to highlight issues that may not otherwise get the voicing they deserve.
This endeavour has met with some great success in its first year. Having been invited to the All Party Political Group on the Irish in Britain at Westminster, we have been able to highlight issues such as the “Fresh Perspectives” report published by the Federation of Irish Societies, in conjunction with the London Irish Centre, on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Our position has also allowed us put various Irish community groups in direct contact with goings on at the Constitutional Convention. It also allows our members to put forward policy ideas and attend the party’s Árd Fheis to vote on party policy which affords us an ever growing connection with Ireland even though we live abroad. To this effect, our members will be proposing a Seanad Reform Policy at Ógra Fianna Fáil’s Youth Conference at the end of February in Sligo.
This type of engagement is not limited to members of political parties however. I would urge all Irish people living abroad to re-engage with the political system in Ireland and contribute from afar, regardless of whatever political hue you may have. The country needs all the help it can get at present and I for one am determined to continue to contribute and find solutions such that my peers and I can have a future in Ireland. A vote and some representation would go a long way to encouraging others to do likewise.
Eoin Neylon (26) is a structural design engineer from Ennis, Co Clare. He has been living in the UK since 2008.
Are you involved in politics where you now live, or have you remained connected to the political system in Ireland? Are you in favour of emigrant voting rights? Have your say in the comments section below.