Should Ireland extend the vote to emigrants? I vote no

We cannot lump ‘emigrants’ into one boat and say ‘they’ should be allowed have a say

Fionnuala Zinnecker: ‘If I still lived in Ireland, I doubt I would be particularly happy with masses of emigrants being able to have their say in the running of the country without paying taxes in Ireland or living there themselves.’

Fionnuala Zinnecker: ‘If I still lived in Ireland, I doubt I would be particularly happy with masses of emigrants being able to have their say in the running of the country without paying taxes in Ireland or living there themselves.’

 

I would love if the Irish health care system was funded and run like the German one is. I would like to see the water charges managed efficiently through the county councils, and I would be delighted if Ireland introduced a childcare setup that meant working parents could be sure their children were being looked after well by properly qualified staff for a reasonable price.

There are lots of issues in the upcoming general election that interest me, and on which I have an opinion. The same has been the case with every general election, referendum and presidential election held since 2003, the year I emigrated. There’s the point. I emigrated. And because I have emigrated, I have no vote. No ticking boxes on ballot sheets for me. My opinions remain opinions only.

During the #HomeToVote frenzy last year, I kept my thoughts to myself. But now with the 2016 general election looming the discussion has surfaced again. Should Ireland extend the vote to emigrants? I vote no. At least not yet.

It is not that I am not interested in the state of the country. Nor that I have no plans to return. Or that I don’t care about the lives of my friends and family living in Ireland. But because I don’t know how it could work or where it would end. To take things to extremes, would my children, who have never lived in Ireland but who proudly hold Irish passports, be granted the vote on turning 18? Would I, in say 40 years time, over 50 years outside of the country, be voting the same way I would if I actually lived in Ireland?

If I still lived in Ireland, I doubt I would be particularly happy with masses of emigrants being able to have their say in the running of the country without paying taxes in Ireland or living there themselves. The fear of the media having too much of an influence on the views of those living overseas would probably play a role, I imagine.

There is a tendency at times like this to think of those who didn’t want to emigrate but had, or felt they had, no other choice. To think of how they would like to return as soon as they can and how unfair it is that they cannot have a say in what the country they want so badly to return to will look like. But we cannot decide on a whim to extend the vote. We cannot lump “emigrants” into one boat and say that “they” should be allowed have their say.

Various models of extending the vote to emigrants have been suggested over the years, none of them ideal. I don’t believe that a country which can’t manage to implement a water charge in a satisfactory manner is capable of setting up a reliable system of ensuring that votes can only be cast by certain emigrants without a lot of planning. Criteria are needed, be they in relation to the length of time spent living in Ireland or outside of the country, or a combination of both, and those criteria need to be managed and monitored.

So for now at least, I am happy not to have a vote. It doesn’t stop me being interested or getting frustrated at how situations are handled. But for the moment I would be happier for those who are entitled to vote to make sure they are registered and to get down to their polling station on general election day and have their say. Not using the vote you are entitled to - now that is something that is easily remedied.

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