Election 2016: Where do the main parties stand on emigration and diaspora issues?

Some parties promise more than others in relation to voting rights, preventing emigration, and helping people to move home

What have the main political parties pledged regarding emigrant issues? Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

What have the main political parties pledged regarding emigrant issues? Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

With just over a week left in the general election campaign, all the main political parties have now released their manifestos. What have they pledged about issues relating to emigration, the Irish abroad, and the wider Irish diaspora?

Fine Gael

With two full pages in its manifesto dedicated to “bringing our friends and family back home”, Fine Gael has the most in-depth policy regarding emigrants and the diaspora. It includes sections on...

Encouraging recent Irish emigrants to return: “By keeping the recovery going, our aim is that by 2020, Ireland will have brought home at least 70,000 of the emigrants forced to leave because of the crisis… We will continue the #HomeToWork campaign. We will build on the recommendations of the inaugural Global Irish Civic Forum to further identify and address the needs of emigrants wishing to return home to Ireland.”

Financial support: “We will continue to support Irish communities overseas through the Emigrant Support Programme.”

Business networks: “We will continue to work closely with Irish business networks around the world, providing important mentoring and networking opportunities for Irish people overseas.”

Global Irish Forum: “Following the successful fourth Global Irish Economic Forum, we will revitalise and restructure the Global Irish Network, recognising the changed economic circumstances since its establishment.”

Undocumented Irish in US: “Advocating for immigration reform in the United States will remain a priority. We will continue to use all appropriate avenues to advance the case of undocumented Irish citizens and continue to support the undocumented through the Emigrant Support Programme.”

The Gathering: “We will have a successor to The Gathering in 2019, building on the successful year of The Gathering, which reached out to local communities and the Diaspora in a unique way."

Local Diaspora Engagement: "Fine Gael will support local communities and counties in Ireland to reach out to their own Diaspora and build new relationships, recognising that Irish people around the world have a keen sense of attachment to their home place. In particular, we will fund the Local Diaspora Engagement Fund to support local Diaspora engagement projects and initiatives and the Local Diaspora Strategy Development Fund to assist local authorities to invest in developing strategies for Diaspora engagement at local and community level.”

Emigrant voting rights: “We will fully explore the matter of voting rights for Irish citizens resident outside the State, with a view to holding a referendum on giving them the right to vote in presidential elections.”

Labour

Labour mentions emigration only in passing in its manifesto. Here’s what they have to say on...

Preventing forced emigration: “Creating full employment means bringing employment opportunities to every corner of Ireland. We believe that every person should have the chance to work, which means investing in and supporting the development of regional and rural economies. By building up all our regions, we can reverse the cycle of emigration and provide sustainable opportunities in rural communities.”

Encouraging GPs to return: “The HSE estimates that the delivery of free GP care for all will require an additional 1,426 full-time GPs in Ireland by 2021. Labour has a plan to deliver these additional GPs, with a particular focus on three approaches: recruiting new GPs; retaining more of those who are thinking of leaving the profession; and encouraging returners, particularly those who have gone abroad to work.”

Voting rights: “We will establish a powerful and independent Electoral Commission charged with the independent management of elections and election and political finances… We will enable citizens who emigrate to remain on the electoral register for up to five years.”

In an additional statement provided by email, a Labour spokesperson said: “The Government acknowledges that such an extension of the franchise might be welcomed by many in the diaspora. However, it would be challenging to introduce and to manage and a range of issues arise for analysis in that context, including policy, legal and practical issues. Alan Kelly is undertaking the necessary analysis in co-operation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister for Diaspora Affairs.”

Fianna Fáil

After Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil has the second most-detailed section on emigrants in its manifesto, covering...

Emigrant support: “Historically our emigrant communities abroad are inextricably linked to the fortunes of this island and always will be. Culturally, economically and politically they are an immense resource. In particular we have an obligation towards older, vulnerable communities. We will: Increase Funding for the Emigrant Support Programme (ESP) by €3.5 million, ring-fenced to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our overseas communities are supported.” (Manifesto)

Voting rights: “The President is an important political and cultural figurehead for the state and nation. As an international figure the position represents an important cultural centre point for the diaspora and all those who consider themselves Irish across the globe. Irish citizens in Northern Ireland should have the right to cast their ballot in this important election. We are committed to proposing to the people the expansion of voting rights for Irish citizens resident abroad, including Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, to Presidential elections.” (Manifesto)

Post of Minister for Diaspora Affairs: “We are committed to retaining the position of Minister of State for the Diaspora.”

In addition, a spokesperson sent a statement by email about encouraging emigrants to return: “Fianna Fáil is committed to creating the conditions that will support Irish emigrants who wish to return home. To that end, we have a range of proposals which are centred on our four core priorities which are: creating decent jobs and supporting enterprise; cutting the cost of living and improving public services; developing community services; and securing home ownership. We will help create over 250,000 jobs by 2021 and will reduce the Universal Social Charge for low and middle income earners up to €80,000. We will increase construction activity to address the shortage of housing in appropriate locations, and we will create a special saving scheme to help first time buyers save for their deposit. We will abolish water charges and prescription charges and we will re-balance our health system towards primary care. These are just a few of the measures we will implement to create a fairer Ireland and an Ireland that will provide a decent standard of living for our returning emigrants.”

Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin's manifesto makes commitments on...

Preventing forced emigration: “Sinn Féin wants to make rural Ireland a sustainable place to live and work, where the quality of life is matched by the quality of public services; a place where young educated graduates have the opportunity to stay and build their future and a place that welcomes back emigrants, including those forced to leave over recent years."

Encouraging recent Irish emigrants to return: “We will introduce a pilot scheme for rural resettlement. This will provide a relocation package of up €5,000, including return flights for qualifying emigrant families to return to rural Ireland. We will facilitate and support those returning to care for elderly relatives, implementing changes to the habitual residence clause.”

Voting rights: “We will hold a referendum to reduce the voting age and extend voting rights to citizens in the North and to the Diaspora. We will ensure that the Seanad becomes a fully inclusive, representative and accountable institution.”

Social Democrats

With regard to voting rights, the Social Democrats manifesto commits to establishing an electoral commission which “could” bring about “improved voting rights for recent emigrants”.

On preventing forced emigration and encouraging return, a spokesperson sent a statement by email to say: “Our finalised policies are included in our published manifesto, Building a Better Future 2016-2026. There are 35 detailed policy areas, many of which build the foundations for a better, fairer, Republic which would obviate the need for our citizens to look elsewhere for a society in which they believe they can prosper. There are no specific policies targeted at enticing the diaspora to return but further policy work is ongoing and we will publish them in due course.”

People Before Profit

A spokesperson for People Before Profit sent a statement by email on...

Preventing forced emigration: “[WE WILL] create jobs through state activity. We reject the mantra that it is not the role of government to create jobs. They can restore some of the 40,000 jobs that were cut from public sector. State development companies can also be established. [WE WILL]stop age discrimination. The state’s policy of paying new entrants a lower wage than those who began before 2011 is creating incentive to emigrate. The cut in social welfare to €100 for those under 25 makes it impossible to live here. That is effectively forcing many to emigrate.”

Encouraging recent Irish emigrants to return: “Pay proper wages and create jobs.”

Post of Minister for Diaspora Affairs: “It depends on what they actually do and what programme of work they propose to undertake.”

Voting rights: “We favour the creation of citizens’ assemblies to oversee the work of government. There should be a right of representation for emigrants in this.”

Undocumented Irish in US: “We campaign for the regularisation of the undocumented Irish in America and believe that regularising undocumented migrants in Ireland would set an example in this regard.

Green Party

The Green Party doesn’t mention emigration specifically in its manifesto, but it offers perhaps the strongest commitment on Voting rights: “Elections should be held at weekends with provision for an absentee ballot facility for any eligible voters currently living overseas.”

Renua

The only mention of emigration and the Irish abroad in Renua’s manifesto is a cursory nod to preventing forced emigration: “We want to fundamentally break the link to boom and bust cycle politics. Traditional party politics has compromised the national interest since the foundation of the state. Our political culture is directly responsible for decades of economic hardship and an engrained culture of emigration.”

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