Will emigrants come #HomeToVote in the general election?
Many of the people who have recently left Ireland want a say in the future of the country to which they hope to return
Members of Boat to Vote, a group of Irish people who returned from London to vote in the marriage-equality referendum. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Michael John Winters: “Like many young Irish abroad we have strong connections to our homeland. We hope to return soon.”
Vanessa Monahan: “While I now live and work in London, it’s not home and it never will be.”
Damian Mac Con Uladh: “That I have been effectively disenfranchised in Ireland as a non-resident is of far less concern to me than being excluded from the democratic process where I now reside.”
Seán O’Brien: “When the date for the referendum on equal marriage was announced last year, I booked my flights home to vote immediately.”
Ireland is one of the few countries in the developed world that doesn’t allow its citizens to vote from abroad, but that didn’t stop emigrants flocking home to have their say in the marriage-equality referendum, last May. As another campaign encouraging emigrants to come back to cast a ballot in the general election gathers momentum, a few of those who have already booked their flights explain why it is important to them to vote.
Michael John Winters: Vet, Canada
'We may buy our first home or set up a business in Ireland during the lifetime of this next leadership'
My wife and I now live in Toronto, and even here, many miles from home in Co Leitrim, the election is a topic among the Irish community. Given that many of us are on a two-year work visa, we will be home long before the next election, in 2020.
When the election date was announced we were in the middle of organising a visit home to meet our new niece. The chance to see family and friends, coupled with a vote in the election, will make for a great holiday.
For us this election carries more significance than a lot of previous ones. We hope to return soon to lay down permanent roots.
We may find ourselves buying our first home or setting up a business during the lifetime of this next leadership. The services and infrastructure they create are what we will rely on to raise a family.
Joey Kavanagh: Founder of the Get the Boat to Vote campaign, London
‘Had I a ballot to cast, it would not be used to support the incumbent political parties’
Having now lived outside Ireland for more than 18 months, I’ve lost the right to vote in Irish elections and referendums. I’ve checked the electoral register and my name remains on it but, were I to vote, I would be committing electoral fraud.
Had I a ballot to cast, it would not be used to support the incumbent political parties who, in ignoring recommendations from the European Commission and the OECD to review the “disenfranchising” of emigrant voters, became the latest in a succession of Irish governments to drag their feet on the issue.
This time last year, I began working on a campaign called Get The Boat 2 Vote, encouraging vote-eligible Irish citizens abroad to travel home and vote yes in the same-sex marriage referendum.
The campaign was one of several calling on recent emigrants to play their part. In May, as thousands filed through Ireland’s airports and ports on their way to the polling stations, the #HomeToVote hashtag began trending worldwide on social media networks.
At the time, Enda Kenny commended those who had “voted with their feet” but, in confirming the upcoming general election a mere three weeks before the ballot date, the Taoiseach made it abundantly clear that including the diaspora in the democratic process certainly hadn’t been a consideration this time around.
Irish citizens abroad who wish to vote in the election must travel home to cast their ballots and may only do so if they’ve been resident in Ireland in the past 18 months. We live at a time when one in every six people born in Ireland live outside of the homeland, and yet our voting provisions for ex-pats rank among the most restrictive in Europe.
If the incoming government is serious about curtailing the so-called brain drain and encouraging return migration, a major step forward would be to introduce electoral reforms that reflect the fact that, in 2016, the Irish nation extends far beyond the Irish state.
Seán O’Brien: DJ, London
‘My vote for Averil Power is a thank you for her hard work on marriage equality’
When the date for the referendum on equal marriage was announced last year, I booked my flights home to vote immediately. As a gay Irish man it was a political and social issue that was personal to me.
I didn’t hesitate. I knew I wanted to come home to vote; to help make a difference, to help make Ireland a better place to grow up in and to live in. I wanted a better future for my friends, my family and also for that person who is struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, their identity.
I saw amazing support for the Yes campaign, a country united in its wish to pave the way for a better, more inclusive future for Ireland. There was one politician in particular who stood out for me, Averil Power.
She campaigned tirelessly throughout the Dublin Bay North area, even knocking on the door of my family home and having a conversation with my mam and sister. She stood up for what she believed in and committed herself to the Yes vote.
I tweeted after the referendum passed that I would come home to vote for her in GE16, and I stand by that. It might only be one extra vote, but it’s my way of saying thank you for all her hard work in helping change my future possibilities.
Tom Felle, London
‘The water-charge protests baffle me’
I’ve spent my career in and out of Ireland by choice, and I’ve never considered myself an emigrant. I work hard, and I have enjoyed the freedom of being able to travel and work abroad. I’ve been based in London since 2014.
I’ve always been interested in politics and current affairs and as an Irish person living and working in a global economy, I’m glad that the Irish economy is on the road back to recovery.
I pay property tax and I have a car in Ireland, so I pay car tax. I’m very happy in London – but down the road, who knows? I wasn’t forced to leave Ireland, and at some stage I’m sure I’ll return. That’s why I’m coming back to vote.
The issues that will influence my vote are very different to those that may weigh on the minds of domestic voters. The water charges protests baffle me. In London I pay about €700 a year in water charges and nearly €2,000 in council tax.
Most Irish people don’t appreciate how generous the social welfare system in Ireland is, and how good the largely free education system is. If you’re on the dole here you really are poor – in London nobody can afford to be unemployed. Many third level students here have up to £50,000 in debt when they graduate.
For me, the right to vote is an important issue. I welcome proposals to allow emigrants vote in the next presidential election, but I’d also like to see voting in Dáil elections extended to emigrants.
Keeping the economy going and lowering taxes are my main priorities when choosing a party to support.
Vanessa Monaghan: Radio presenter, London
‘I’m coming home to vote for an Ireland I can come back to’
I’m originally from outside Kells in Co Meath, now living in Lewisham. I work in a media company in Westminster and I present and produce a weekly radio show The London Ear, broadcast on RTÉ 2XM, bridging the musical gap between Ireland and the Irish community in London.
I didn’t want to leave Ireland. I stayed as long as I possibly could. But there’s only so long that I could hold on to a hope, a dream, that something would change. Two job interviews in a year didn’t do anything to convince me to stay.
While I now live and work in London, it’s not home and it never will be. At some stage I want to return to Dublin. As long as my name is on the electoral roll, as long as I can go home to vote for a better country than the one I left, I will.
It's not just for me though. It's for my nieces and nephews who are starting to reach the end of their school days. If they want to finish college and then travel, I want it to be their choice. I don't want the decision to emigrate or stay in their homeland to have been made by others.
I don't ever want my vision of Ireland to be one of nostalgia, to be one of the old good days in the auld sod. I'm coming home to vote for a fairer society, change, a new start, a society I can be proud of, an Ireland I can come back to.
Damian Mac Con Uladh: Irish Times journalist, Greece
‘I don’t want a vote in Ireland’
Since I moved here, almost 12 years ago, there have been six general elections and one referendum in Greece, a country that has become my home, where my children were born and go to school, where I work and pay my taxes. Despite the critical importance of these elections for me and my family, as a noncitizen I don’t have a vote.
That I have been effectively disenfranchised in Ireland as a nonresident – all I have is a postal vote for the NUI panel in Seanad elections – is of far less concern to me than being excluded from the democratic process where I now reside, on the grounds that I’m not a Greek citizen. For me to become one this side of 45 would require language tests, €700 in fees and a few months of unpaid conscription in the army.
I think Greeks – or citizens of any other country, for that matter – who have made Ireland their home are more deserving of a vote in Irish national elections than Irish citizens like me who have opted to live abroad.
Rather than #HomeToVote, I think the genuine, democratic demand should be for us to be able to #VoteWhereHomeIsNow.