We are Irish citizens who want to have our vote abroad

#HomeToVote drive highlighted emigrant rights concern

Emigrants are returning to Ireland today specifically to vote in the Referendum. Some have been travelling for well over 12 hours only to return again in 24.

 

Last weekend at Dublin Castle, thousands gathered to mark a watershed moment in Irish history.

As the country delivered a resounding Yes to marriage equality, Taoiseach Enda Kenny thanked those who had “travelled from wherever to wherever, to put a single mark on a paper” – many of us standing on the courtyard had flown great distances, eager to participate.

In the days preceding the vote, social media was ablaze with stories of emigrants returning from Sydney, New York, London, and further afield. Dublin Airport was thronged, and reporters gathered to greet ferryloads of hopeful expats.

That so many travelled so far is testament to our citizens’ desire to remain connected – that they had to do so in the first place demonstrates how outdated and exclusive our democracy can be.

Ireland’s emigrant voting legislation remains among the most restrictive in Europe, despite calls for reform dating back to the last mass exodus of the 1980s. Unlike most democracies, no postal vote facility exists, and those abroad longer than 18 months are disenfranchised completely.

Refusal to deliver As many of us landed in Dublin on Friday, the Labour Party stated they were “humbled, proud, gladdened and moved” by those flying home, despite the fact that Government’s refusal to deliver reform left many citizens with no other means to participate.

Next Wednesday, several young emigrants are returning to Dublin Castle again – a second trip home in the space of two weeks, to participate in the first Global Irish Civic Forum. Initially planned as a platform to discuss emigrant welfare and improvements to government communications policy, last week’s events have cast it in a different light.

Although it’s difficult to measure the exact turnout for this demographic, upwards of 60,000 emigrants were potentially eligible to vote – it seems impossible to discuss our emigrant communities while ignoring those who came home to vote. As representatives of the Get the Boat 2 Vote and We’re Coming Back campaigns, we’re attending to advocate for a postal vote facility and for stronger emigrant voting rights.

A number of prominent politicians have supported changes to law which would allow emigrants to retain their voting rights for an increased time period, as well as a postal facility; amongst them Taoiseach Enda Kenny, President Michael D Higgins, former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and current Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan.

Recommendations However, the Taoiseach recently relegated the issue as a question for the next government, despite recommendations for action from the Constitutional Convention, the Minister for Diaspora Affairs, a cross-party Dáil committee, and the European Commission.

It might not be too much to hope that his mind has changed in view of the numbers returning last week. He praised the efforts of those citizens, saying their commitment to the Irish democratic process “shows the value of the issue and the importance of politics”. Hopefully, he’ll rise to meet that commitment to Irish democracy. Hopefully, he’ll sit down and listen to the emigrants returning to participate in the Global Irish Civic Forum next week and consider their proposals for reform.

David Burns (now in Dublin), Joey Kavanagh (London), and Conor O’Neill (Brussels)

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