Emigrants on voting: ‘Who am I to decide who is president?’

Opinion divided on proposed referendum on emigrant vote in presidential elections

Minister of State for Diaspora Joe McHugh said online voting from abroad will be considered as an option.

Minister of State for Diaspora Joe McHugh said online voting from abroad will be considered as an option.


Irish emigrant groups have been campaigning for decades for political representation and the right to vote from overseas, but public opinion appears divided over the Taoiseach’s announcement of a forthcoming referendum on the issue.

Speaking during his St Patrick’s Day visit to the US yesterday, Enda Kenny said a referendum would be held on granting citizens abroad a vote in Irish presidential elections. He said the decision by Cabinet “is a profound recognition of the importance that Ireland attaches to all of our citizens, wherever they may be”.

The referendum - likely to take place in 2018 but not in time for the presidential election that year - will be limited to the issue of a vote in presidential elections only, and not in local or general elections, or referendums.

The Irish Times asked readers in Ireland and abroad what they thought of the proposal. Opinion appears to be divided - some emigrants welcome the referendum but say it doesn’t go far enough without provisions for a vote in general elections or referendums; others think the ability to vote should be limited to a certain number of years after leaving; and some are against widening the franchise to people not living in the country at all. Below is a selection of the responses we received.

Daniel O’Halloran, Australia: ‘Australian politics have a greater impact on my life now’

The idea of including emigrants in presidential elections is great but it needs to be limited. I believe emigrants should be able to vote in all Irish elections but only for up to four years after they have left. After that, they may have lost touch with the reality and needs of the country, and for those like me who are settled permanently abroad, the election results will have little or no effect on their lives. Who am I to decide on who should run a country that I no longer live in?

I have been away for eight years. Despite my best efforts to keep up to date with basic Irish politics, it is more important to me at the moment to keep an eye on Australian politics, as that has a greater impact on my life now. I definitely wouldn’t like Australian expats to be voting in the general elections.

Brendan Walsh, Japan: ‘We’re still citizens and we still care’

I’m 23 years old and I’m currently on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, placed in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

For my final-year Politics dissertation in Maynooth University, I researched voting attitudes and motivations amongst young Irish people, as well as comparisons to other countries. I studied particular methods aimed at raising participation rates, particularly among younger people and first-time voters, and the conclusions included a recommendation to extend the franchise to recent emigrants.

I am an emigrant currently but I, like many others, wish to return home someday. We would like a say in the running of our country. I would, however, draw the line for participating in the electoral process at two years after leaving.

While I welcome the calling of a referendum, it doesn’t go near far enough. Presidential elections take place once every seven years. What of referendums, general, European, local and even Seanad elections? If the referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment were to take place while I was abroad, I would be fuming.

While studying in Beijing in 2014-2015, the referendums on the 34th (marriage equality) and 35th (presidential age) amendments took place. I was unable to vote despite the fact I’d be home six weeks later. I have retained the voting card that was delivered to my house for those referendums as a reminder of the lack of rights that emigrants have in the running of their own country.

It is even more unacceptable that people who may be abroad at that particular time temporarily, maybe for a wedding or a holiday, or students who are on semesters abroad, can’t vote. We’re still citizens and we still care. I admire the endeavour of this referendum but it needs to go much further.

Anne Ward, England: ‘I’m  more informed now that I was when I left Ireland in 1973’

Since I retired recently I have had more time to keep in touch with what’s happening in Ireland. As a former district councillor in the south Of England I have acquired a lot of knowledge on how political systems work, and as a result I am even more interested in Irish politics generally. I read the Irish Times (online) every day and get regular updates on what’s happening in the Dail.  I’m probably more informed now that I was when I left Ireland in 1973 at the age of 23 when politics was the last thing on my mind. I think emigrants like me take a less partisan approach to politics in general and would vote for who they think would be the best person for the post and what would be the best thing for the country of Ireland.

Eugene Nolan, Cayman Islands: ‘The President of Ireland is a figurehead position’

Is this initiative not a complete waste of taxpayers’ money? If there is to be a referendum about us non domiciled Irish voting from abroad, it should be for general elections, European elections and referendums.

Without wanting to denigrate the office of the President of Ireland, it is a figurehead position. We have had some incredible presidents in recent times, all of whom have made Ireland proud, but let’s be honest with ourselves, it is little more than an “honorary”’ position with little to no power to influence public policy.

As an Irish citizen living abroad I would welcome the opportunity to vote in matters of national importance. Unfortunately the presidency of Ireland is not one, in my opinion

Also, is it not ironic that the proposed referendum will not include those Irish abroad as voters?

Kevin Pomeroy, Iceland: ‘Referendums on the EU could affect my right to live abroad’

I live and work in Iceland, a EEA state. I have almost no interest in who becomes president of Ireland. I do however have an interest on EU referendums, as they could affect my right to live abroad. In June 2016 many British living in the EU had no say in the referendum on the European Union. They are now in a difficult situation. This proposed referendum is a waste of time and money unless it covers the fundamental concerns of Irish people abroad. 

Emily Aisling Hall, Stockholm: 'Pitting  voting rights of citizens abroad against  human rights of citizens at home is shameful'

While it has always struck me as odd for Ireland to deny its citizens abroad a say in any political elections whatsoever, I do not believe the timing of this referendum has anything to do with strengthening the democratic rights of Irish emigrants. The Taoiseach and the Government are currently under heavy public pressure to call a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, and have so far refused to do so. At this time, they have instead chosen to call a much less urgent, and much less important referendum, in what I believe to be a cheap ploy at further ignoring the Repeal movement.

Pitting the voting rights of citizens abroad against the human rights of citizens at home is both shameful and deceitful, and as an Irish woman living abroad I want no part of it. It is of much greater importance to me that every Irish citizen is entitled to full and proper healthcare, than the possibility of me placing a vote in the next Presidential election.

Perhaps it is not fair that I have been stripped of my right to vote because I was born, raised, and living in Sweden, but how is it any less unfair that living abroad grants me the right to abortion, while it is denied to Irish people at home? As March 17th draws near, I would like to remind Enda Kenny that St Patrick banished snakes, not citizens, from Ireland. Please consider the need of the eleven people who each day are forced to leave the island against their will, before the needs of the thousands of us who have chosen to do so ourselves. 

Brian Keady, Co Tipperary: ‘This referendum is just political spin’

I’m a returned emigrant having spent nine years in Canada, coming back to Ireland in the 80s. Voting in the presidential election is neither here nor there, and a referendum is just political spin. Emigrants should be able to vote in all elections as it is usually government policy that has forced them to be emigrants in the first place. It matters not a whit who is sitting in the park, as long as it is not some political flunky on the gravy train for seven years plus a pension gravy train after that. At the moment it looks like Bertie is making his first moves to do just that.

Carmel Vickers, Ireland: ‘I would be worried if long-term emigrants had a right to vote’

I think provisions could be made for those abroad on a temporary basis. But having seen my own family split through emigration both in the 80s and the naughties, and how they begin to change culturally, I would be worried if long-term emigrants had a right to vote.

While it’s the right of other citizens of other countries, I believe Ireland is in a rather unique position of having more people living away through emigration. Those living in the country could be overruled by those who have not lived in the country since perhaps the 80s. Ireland cannot be viewed the same as other countries for this reason.

I’ve lived away for a spell in Midwest America, and the Irish emigrants there are very different culturally to resident Irish. They sometimes have very radical views of an Ireland they left behind and are not properly informed of its change since they left.

John, US: ‘What gives us the right to decide how those who remain should be ruled?’

As an Irish immigrant living in the US for the past 18 years, I believe having a vote in general elections in Ireland would be a great way for all of us who decided to leave to have a say in what happens at home. But what gives us the right to decide how those who remain should be ruled? We would not be there to live with the choices made.

If you vote to decide how your country is governed, you should be there to accept the consequences good or bad, not looking in from a distance making judgment.

Eileen Cameron, Ireland: ‘He is appeasing American interests while ignoring the Irish electorate’

Enda Kenny’s decision to hold a referendum on emigrant votes is disgusting. He is appeasing American interests while ignoring the Irish electorate.

Thousands of Irish voters are on the streets demanding a referendum on the eighth amendment (which bans abortion in Ireland) and Enda ignores them. His statement that the announcement “is a profound recognition of the importance that Ireland attached to all of our citizens” is particularly galling, when we consider all the women who have to go to England in order to access abortions.

Brendan Lynch, Queensland, Australia: The diaspora should be allocated seats in the Seanad’

In my opinion all Irish abroad who still hold Irish passports should be allowed to vote in all Irish elections. Offering Irish citizens abroad a vote in the Presidential election is, as they say in Australia, a “Clayton’s vote”; that is the vote you have when you don’t have a vote.

Not alone should Irish citizens have a vote, the diaspora should be allocated at least four seats in the Senate so that the Irish abroad have a meaningful role in legislative review.

For 95 years the Irish Free State has failed millions of its citizens by being incapable of providing a decent standard of living for everyone. Allowing Irish citizens living abroad to vote would be a token gesture by the State in recognition of its failure.

Paddy Diskin, Co Kerry: ‘If they want to vote, let them pay something back’

I am a retired Aer Lingus employee. I spend a lot of time abroad but pay my taxes in Ireland. I see it very simply. If emigrants want to vote, let them contribute to the economy. The Irish taxpayer has contributed to their education, so if they want to vote, let them pay something back. “No taxation without representation” was the cry of the American revolutionaries. Mine is “No representation without taxation”.

Amanda Harrison, Lagny-sur-Marne, France: ‘A five-year time limit could be a good idea’

I have been living in France since 1989. As frustrating as it is not being able to vote, neither in the country where one lives nor in the country where one is from, I do believe it would be inappropriate for someone who is not exposed to life in Ireland to have a say in an election.

This does not extend however to emigrants recently and temporarily left the country for economic reasons. Perhaps a five-year time period to retain voting rights could be a good idea.

Catherine Fravalo, Dublin: ‘Voting in referendums is the essence of citizenship’

As French citizen (I have dual citizenship, Irish and French), I can vote in presidential elections and in referendums but not in general elections, as I am no longer attached to a constituency.

I am especially glad to have that choice and it is an entitlement that I cherish. I think that Ireland, which has a tradition of “exporting” its citizens, would do well to extend the right to vote to Irish people who have resorted to moving abroad in search of a job and a better life than what they could expect at home.

While I think that giving emigrants a vote in the presidential election is the right step to take, I see no reason why voting rights could not be extended to include referendums. Surely this is the very essence of what citizenship means.

Fionuala Finnegan, Ireland: ‘Those who leave are more likely to go out and vote’

For centuries Irish people have had to emigrate, and this continues today. My daughter moved to the UK last year aged 21 due to lack of work, and I believe she should be allowed to vote in elections and also referendums. She has left because Ireland cannot provide her with the opportunities to sustain herself, whereas the UK has. She has grown up here, and should be as entitled to vote as anyone still living here. She has always voted since she came of age, and if you ask me, those who leave are the ones who are more likely to go out and vote than many of those who remain.

Kieran Timmons, Co Sligo: ‘Give full voting rights to all Irish citizens in all matters for 10 years’

Is it right that Irish citizens forced in their tens of thousands to emigrate are immediately silenced, and cannot express their sincere desire for radical change to a dysfunctional political system in this country after they leave?

Unless our political system modernises, decentralises, and is separated from the system of public administration (see Estonia) we will continue to suffer poor performance of this services (and shocking cost overruns), regardless of the efforts of those diligent public servants who wish to see a modern, efficient service.

Why not give full voting rights to all Irish citizens in all matters for at least 10 years. The input from those who are exposed to other systems might be considerable.

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