Irish abroad on Election 2020: ‘My mother understands why I would choose not to come back’
‘I’ve worked so hard, only for the Government to make it impossible to come home’
(left to right) Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald during the final TV leaders’ debate at the RTÉ studios in Donnybrook, Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
As the country prepares to go to the polls on Saturday, thousands of Irish people living around the world are watching and waiting for the outcome of the general election, to see how it may impact their future. Most are unable to vote, as Irish citizens lose their right if they have lived outside the State for more than 18 months.
Last year there were more Irish emigrants leaving the country than returning. An estimated 29,000 Irish nationals emigrated in the 12 months to April 2019 compared with 26,900 who returned, according to figures published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
We asked Irish people living abroad what issues are concerning them. Here is a selection of their responses:
Patricia McCabe, Australia: ‘The choice to move home has been taken out of my hands’
I’ve lived abroad for nearly 18 years. I trained as a nurse in London and made the decision to travel to Australia for a year, and that year has now become 12. I originally stayed in London and Perth out of a personal choice to live abroad and up until recently had not given much serious consideration into moving home. Being a nurse I was aware of the ongoing health care crisis and the terrible conditions reported both for patients and the health care workers. Although I stayed abroad through personal choice this was definitely a reason I was “put off” moving home. I am now facing another one - the housing crisis. This is the first time that I have given serious consideration into moving home, but it seems now the choice has been taken out of my hands. Having family here I would never be homeless, but my dog and I would really struggle to find a place to call our own. For a long time my mother felt very hurt and confused as to why I would choose to stay abroad. The general election lead up has brought the country’s issues to the forefront. This is the first time she seems to understand why. It’s a very sad state of affairs.
Niall Curley, Brussels: ‘It’s time to allow all of Ireland’s citizens to vote’
I’ve missed the repeal the Eighth amendment referendum, the European and local elections, and I will be missing this year’s general election - all because I either did not have the time to travel the three hours to Prague airport, and from there to travel to rural Roscommon to cast my vote, which takes approximately five minutes. Now it’s the same story from Belgium. I intend to return home to Ireland and my constituency in the next couple of years. It’s not fantasy or some wayward dream to say this, and that the government elected within the next week will be one which affects me and my family. But I am denied my right to determine the leaders of my county council, my MEPs, and my national government leaders, while in most countries it is allowed. It’s even mandatory to vote no matter where you live if you are a citizen of Australia or Belgium. It’s time that we moved forward like the rest of the world, and allow all of Ireland’s citizens to vote.
Shannon Connolly, Scotland: ‘The Government makes it impossible to come home’
I’m an almost-qualified clinical psychologist, and have been living and training in Scotland for the past four years. My partner, also from Cork, was kind enough to move with me and we’re really enjoying the quality of life Scotland has to offer. However, we’re getting to the age that we want to buy and house and start to think about settling down, wanting to have kids with the support we will definitely need from our families nearby. This, however, seems impossible just now. The Health Service Executive (HSE) appears to have zero interest in hiring an adequate number of mental health professionals, and make it difficult and lengthy to have my doctorate qualifications converted. I also understand they plan to effectively ban all non-State trained psychologists from 2022. I’ve worked so hard to get to this stage only for the Government to make it impossible to come home. In addition, the housing crisis makes it seem even more difficult. Here in Scotland, the government has recently announced interest free equity loans to support first time buyers. We are planning on buying and living here for a few more years, waiting for the Irish government to sort this nonsense out. I hope everyone at home votes and makes sensible choices.
Kevin Cronin, Perth, Australia: ‘I don’t feel aggrieved at not having a vote’
I’m not clear that there needs to be any discourse around Irish emigrants in the election campaign. I’d imagine most emigrants are economic refugees, so ultimately the very things that are at the forefront of the current election campaign will be the same things that drove us away in the first place, and to an extent, keep us from returning. Listening to the recent leaders’ debate, it’s interesting how progressive the debate is in some areas but how arcane and mired in the past it is in others. The talk of all that is being done in the clean energy and climate change space makes an odd bed fellow with the finger pointing on the rampant homelessness and failing health care system. I don’t feel that aggrieved that I don’t rate a mention as an emigrant, nor do I feel aggrieved at not having a vote. I left for pastures new and am enjoying the benefits that doing so has brought. I’d also suspect that anyone that has to spend the better part of three hours a day commuting from an overpriced shoebox that is sucking up the lion’s share of their overly taxed salary, while their kids have to attend different schools as they have no right to go to their local, I think I’d want the focus squarely on the Irish in Ireland. I watch on with interest and hope that one of these days they’ll get it right.
John Spillane, Sydney: ‘Is it time for a national conversation on what it means to be an Irish citizen?’
Why do Irish citizens abroad not have full voting rights (as do citizens of USA, Canada, Australia)? Is it time for an in-depth national conversation on exactly what it means (in terms of rights and responsibilities) to be an Irish citizen?
Nicole Campbell, Melbourne: ‘An issue that I rarely hear discussed at all is science funding’
I completed my PhD in Immunology in 2018 and moved to Melbourne, Australia to take up a job in cancer research last year. Like all emigrants, the cost of living, particularly housing, in Ireland is a major deterrent to moving back home. However, an issue that I rarely hear discussed at all is science funding. Ireland is training large numbers of science graduates every year, but our declining level of investment in science and research is a problem, which will soon threaten our ability to perform in this sphere. Research laboratories are underfunded, and unable to hire sufficient staff such as research assistants and postdoctoral researchers. Moreover, the salaries for these positions are too low, especially considering the number of years of education and experience required, and the cost of living in cities where most of these jobs are based. We are likely to lose a lot of our scientific talent to other countries or other industries, which will be a huge loss to Ireland’s historically excellent performance in scientific research. As it stands, even if I were to return home to a higher-level position than my current job in Australia, I would likely have to take a significant pay cut and face a higher cost of living, which would make such a move untenable.
Anna O’Grady: ‘I’m terrified at the thought of what we will have to pay for car insurance’
I’m moving home with my family in April 2020. While I’m so excited about the prospect of returning, I’m terrified at the thought of what we will have to pay for car insurance. We will be living in the countryside so will have to get two cars. It will cost us thousands to get on the road. Insurance companies should not be able to get away with charging exorbitant prices if you can prove you have a no claims bonus from abroad. I’ve never made a claim in 14 years, but will be charged the same as a new driver. This in my view is discrimination.
Michael Foley: ‘I believe I should be allowed to vote as an absentee voter’
I’m part of the forgotten generation. I left home in 1993 and still follow closely what happens at home. I believe I should be allowed to vote as an absentee voter.