Diaspora deserve vote in presidential polls to select who represents them
‘No taxation without representation” was the 18th-century rallying cry of American revolutionaries. It is also true that there should be no representation without taxation. I don’t pay Irish tax. I have lived most of my adult life far from my Cork home. So I accept that I shouldn’t have a say in electing those who set the policies (and tax rates) for the State. But I also believe that Ireland should seek to genuinely engage with its diaspora.
In December I wrote an article for Australia’s Irish Echo ( irishecho.com.au/2012/12/09/presidential-ballot-could-be-gathering-the-diaspora-needs). I welcomed former president Mary Robinson’s light in the window of the Áras and the odd postcard about The Gathering, but I wanted something more.
I am a legal academic who has spent over a decade lecturing and researching in the area of constitutional law. And while I have not been ordinarily resident in Ireland for more than a decade, I remain gripped by Irish politics.
This is not surprising, as my childhood was dominated by Irish politics. In the early 1980s, my father would strap a loudhailer to the roof of his Volvo 66 and exhort people to “Rise and follow Charlie”. As a teenager, a poster of Dick Spring, with its exhortation “Let’s make Ireland work”, adorned my bedroom wall.
When I left Ireland, for the UK, in 2001, I continued to vote in local, Westminster and European elections. Now I live in Sydney: the sun shines; the boys and girls on Bondi wear GAA and Munster jerseys; and I am disenfranchised. I have no vote.
I remain politically engaged but my inability to vote has focused my attention on the important connection that the right to vote creates between a citizen and their state. Being resident grants me no right to vote here. Fair enough. But shouldn’t being a citizen grant me some rights back home?
In the interests of full disclosure I will admit that – as a graduate of UCC and TCD – I can vote for two panels in Seanad elections. But the Seanad’s corporatist electoral system is bizarre, as the separate NUI and TCD panels highlight.
In reality I shouldn’t have even a single vote in Seanad elections. Sitting in the “Lucky Country” with its mining boom and housing bubbles I have no right to influence Irish Government policy. I oppose Seanad abolition, but equally I oppose the addition of a diaspora panel.
What I want is a vote in the elections that matter to me: presidential elections. I want to choose that person who represents Ireland and the Irish at home and abroad.