Emigrants called #HometoVote in abortion referendum

New campaign launched urging eligible voters to travel from abroad to cast their ballots

Members of the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign demonstrating in London.

Members of the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign demonstrating in London.

 

Recent emigrants are being encouraged to travel back to Ireland to vote in the upcoming referendum on abortion.

The London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign estimates that more than 40,000 Irish citizens living abroad could be eligible to vote in the referendum, and have created a new “Home to Vote” website (hometovote.com) to inform them of their rights and encourage them to vote if they are eligible.

Their campaign will also use the #HometoVote hashtag on social media, inherited from a similar movement calling on emigrants to come back to vote in the marriage equality referendum in 2015.

Home to Vote is run by the London Irish ARC, but has the support of Repeal Global, a network of groups based in 40 cities worldwide campaigning for the repeal of the eighth amendment in Ireland.

The Government has agreed to hold a referendum as early as May asking voters if they wish to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which grants equal right to life to the mother and her unborn child, and enable them to legislate on abortion law.

The wording for the referendum has not yet been published, but it will be in line with the recommendations of an Oireachtas Committee report last month, which called for access to abortion with no restrictions up to 12 weeks’ gestation, as well as in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

Eligibility

Under Irish electoral law, Irish citizens retain their right to vote for just 18 months after moving abroad, if they intend to return to Ireland within that timeframe.

There is no postal vote from abroad, so eligible voters who want to have their say will have to travel back to Ireland on referendum day to cast their ballot.

The most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office show 30,800 Irish citizens left the country between April 2016 and April 2017. Based on these numbers, the London Irish ARC estimates that more than 40,000 emigrants could be eligible to vote when the proposed referendum is held in May or June this year.

“Considering that the 8th Amendment has affected people for the past 34 years it is important that anyone that intends to come back to Ireland to live can express their opinion on this issue,” said Dr Jennifer Kavanagh, law lecturer at Waterford Institute of Technology.

Dr Kavanagh, who provided legal advice to the London Irish ARC on the issue of emigrant voting eligibility, said the impact of Irish people coming home to vote from abroad on the abortion referendum “will probably be bigger than the marriage equality referendum”.

“It is essential that everyone has their say on this matter and informing those that live abroad of their franchise and exercising their voting rights will have a big impact on the overall vote.”

Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro Life Campaign said they were”aware of a number of possible initiatives that have been mooted to encourage pro-life people living abroad to come home to vote, but nothing definite has been finalised at this point”.

‘Frustrating’

Claire McGowran of the London Irish ARC said that once a date for the referendum was announced, they would be organising groups to travel back from overseas together, and fundraising for people who couldn’t afford to make the trip otherwise.

As Ms McGowran has been living in London for five years, she is not eligible to cast a ballot, a situation she finds “very frustrating”.

“Ireland is still my country. It is where I am from and where I plan to return to. I would love to have a vote on this. It is very frustrating that I don’t have avote, particularly for a referendum, because they are a matter of the direction the whole country is going in, it is not about local politics or personalities,” she said.

“The Constitution can make such a huge difference in how people live their lives. It is also about how the country is perceived abroad, and whether or not you want to come back to live there again.”

Psychology graduate Sarah Ni Mhairtin (25) plans to fly home to vote from Brussels, where she now lives, or possibly New York, if she has moved there before the referendum takes place.

“I moved to Brussels on the day of March for Choice 2017, so the first thing I did was look up a Repeal group here,” she said.

It's so important for everyone to go out and vote and for as many people as possible to return to Ireland to have their say… This is a major human rights issue and everyone knows somebody who has been affected by our restrictive laws on abortion.  That's why, wherever I am in the world, I will be coming home to vote to repeal the 8th amendment.” 

Aoife Cassin (26), who is living in Rome, will be travelling back with her boyfriend and brother.

“I am coming home to vote in solidarity for all the Irish women and girls that are forced abroad to terminate their pregnancies for whatever their reason. Women do not take this decision lightly and it should no longer be up to our government to regulate anyone’s access to full reproductive choice.”