'It's not worth the airfare': Why emigrants aren't #hometovote

Time limits, expense and apathy keep Irish abroad away from presidential election and referendum

Morgan Fagg, Madrid: ‘I’m taking a day off work, spending €123 on Ryanair flights, €80 on Hertz rental, and all the additional costs of travelling home, but keeping the poet in my opinion, is priceless.’

Morgan Fagg, Madrid: ‘I’m taking a day off work, spending €123 on Ryanair flights, €80 on Hertz rental, and all the additional costs of travelling home, but keeping the poet in my opinion, is priceless.’

 

“After my previous run-in with Ireland’s blasphemy law, it’s encouraging to see that it could be repealed soon,” Stephen Fry tweeted on Thursday. “Lots of fine Irish people will once again need to go #HomeToVote to help usher in the new, tolerant, liberal Ireland.”

But unlike the #hometovote campaigns for the referendums on marriage equality or the Eighth Amendment, which prompted thousands of emigrants to travel back to Ireland to cast their ballots, this referendum on blasphemy and the election campaign for the 10th president of Ireland has failed to engage the Irish abroad to the same degree.

Most people who responded to a call-out by Irish Times Abroad this week have been living abroad for longer than the 18-month restriction, are unwilling to spend the money to travel, or have little interest in the vote. But the vast majority would like to see a change in Ireland’s electoral laws to allow them a chance to have their say as Irish citizens living abroad. Here is a selection of responses we received.

Ferdia de Paor, London: ‘I don’t think this election merits the airfare’

I flew home to repeal the Eighth Amendment, but I don’t think this election merits the airfare. I have faith in the people of Ireland to re-elect Michael D and not follow in America’s footsteps by electing a narcissist businessman as president.

Breda Dunne Adkins: ‘Why can’t the Government provide an online voting system?’

Unfortunately I won’t be flying home to vote this time, as I have lived away for over the 18 months requirement. Why can’t the Government provide an online voting system for the diaspora living abroad, so they can be involved?

Ailish O'Donoghue, Copenhagen, Denmark 

I flew home to vote in the last referendum on abortion but will not fly home to vote in the presidential election or referendum on blasphemy. I don't see either as worth travelling for. If I was in Ireland or had the possibility to vote from Denmark I most certainly would. I am caught in limbo whereby I cannot vote in elections here, aside from one local election, and I cannot vote in elections in Ireland. I understand that there are many Irish people abroad and many people with Irish passports so can see why people are concerned (about extending the franchise to the Irish overseas). But I do think that like almost every other country those who have left Ireland within the last five, six, seven years should be able to vote. My boyfriend is Spanish and heads off to the embassy to cast his vote, a good friend is English and does likewise. Why can I not do the same? Why, for the last referendum did I have to miss work, pay airfare etc just to cross a mark on a piece of paper, when I could have done the same remotely?

Stephen Frain, Japan: 'For me and so many others who live abroad, the office of the president is probably the most important of all.'
Stephen Frain, Japan: 'For me and so many others who live abroad, the office of the president is probably the most important of all.'

Stephen Frain, Osaka, Japan: ‘I feel more Irish abroad than I ever have at home’

When the polling stations close on Friday night, I’ll be tucking into my Saturday morning breakfast in Osaka, eagerly refreshing my browser for signs of an exit poll. I moved to Japan in July to work as an English teacher, and this will be the first time ever that I will miss the opportunity to cast my ballot in an election. My friends back home tell me not to worry. “The vote doesn’t matter because the presidency is pointless,” they say. “The President doesn’t have any ‘real’ power.”

Missing Friday’s election frustrates me most because while this is a commonly held view across Ireland, the consensus could hardly be any more different for the Irish abroad. For me and so many others who live abroad, the office of the president is probably the most important of all. The president is our First Citizen, and they set the tone on what it means to be Irish. They foster a discussion on the issues most pertinent to Irish society worldwide. But most importantly, they imbue a certain sense of pride in our identity, which ensures no matter where on the globe we may be dotted, Ireland will always be home.

The franchise of the Irish expat has been kicked to touch for too long. If anything, I feel more Irish abroad than I ever have at home. Having a say in who becomes our head of state serves as a vital link between Ireland and her diaspora. Whether I’m in the urban oases of Osaka, or the boglands of Ballaghaderreen, the difference is immaterial.

Eleanor Costello, Cambridge: 'Any vote at home directly impacts the way I think of Ireland.'
Eleanor Costello, Cambridge: 'Any vote at home directly impacts the way I think of Ireland.'

Eleanor Costello, Cambridge: ‘Every time you are given the opportunity to vote you should take it’

I have lived in the UK for a little over a year. On Friday I will be unable to vote in the Irish presidential election and referendum due to work commitments. Any vote at home directly impacts the way I think of Ireland. I want to feel like those who make decisions for the country have its best interests at heart, not because it directly affects me, but because I want to see the country grow, develop and offer the best it can to the people who live there.

This referendum is worth coming home to vote on. I believe that every time you are given the opportunity to vote you should take it. As a woman, people have fought for me to have this opportunity. I’m grateful that I’m in a privileged position to have been able to fly home to vote for the referendum earlier this year on the Eighth Amendment. The cost of flights and time off work were more than made up for by an emotional weekend following the amazing result.

If I was able to vote, I’d vote to remove blasphemy as an offence and to re-elect Michael D Higgins as president. Since moving to the UK I’ve had many conversations with people from all over the world about Irish politics, during which I have realised just how proud I am of all Higgins has done in his career before becoming president, and since. His passion for Irish culture and the arts is one of the many reasons why I would vote for him. Instead, I’m starting conversations with friends who I know are not motivated to vote or are undecided. If I can’t be there, I’d like to be sure those who I know can are going to exercise their right.

Cormac Moran, New Zealand: ‘I see very little point in the role of the president’

Will I be flying home to vote this week? Absolutely not. I see very little point in the role of the president, other than to entertain visiting heads of state and the like, and to make eloquent speeches about a “Republic” that exists on paper only. There’s very little to recommend a return to live in Ireland these days. The inequality and apathy seems to be at record levels, and moving the deck-chairs around and putting another figurehead into a cushy role with lavish perks as the country goes down the drain is futile.

George Walker, London: ‘I had already planned to come home’

I am training as a physics teacher at King’s College, London. Fortunately, the mid-term break in England is this week and I had already planned to come home, so I will be able to vote on Friday. I think there is merit in considering giving emigrants the right to vote in symbolic elections such as the presidential election, and perhaps referendums. I am not so sure about general elections, since a TD is not truly representative if a large number of voters are not resident, but it may be that an alternative accommodation can be found. I am currently leaning towards a vote for Higgins, but will make up my mind after watching the final debate. As for blasphemy, perhaps I’ll spoil my vote.

Adrian Lawler, Oregon: ‘I cannot go home because of the housing crisis’

From Oregon? That’s a bit far to go. Now if Ireland allowed expats to vote, I would participate. I am an Irish citizen after all. I was born there, and lived there for 42 years, I would not have emigrated if not for the financial crisis. Now I cannot go home because of the housing crisis.

Kevin Hughes, Arizona: ‘I should have the same rights to vote as everyone else’

I follow the goings on daily in Ireland, listen to the radio and read the papers. As an expat I should have the same rights to vote as everyone else. It’s unbelievable that I don’t have access to a postal vote for this and other elections. Many other countries ensure that their citizens have access to vote, why is Ireland so behind the times in this respect?

Morgan Fagg, Madrid: ‘I’m taking a day off work, spending €123 on Ryanair flights’

When we wake up on April Fools’ Day 2019 and finally find out what Brexit means, I want to know that Ireland has the right candidate in the Áras who knows the role 100 per cent. The incumbent President is that candidate; nobody knows the role better in my opinion. No man alive has experience as a mayor, senator, TD, minister and president. I am biased in my opinion, having been involved with Michael D Higgins’ campaign in 2011.

A few of my friends travelled home to vote in the Eighth Amendment referendum, and I am doing so again this week. I never agreed with our blasphemy laws and am happy to vote on this too, but it is expensive. I’m taking a day off work, spending €123 on Ryanair flights, €80 on Hertz rental, and all the additional costs of travelling home, but keeping the poet in my opinion, is priceless.

Philip Milliken: ‘The election of a president should involve Irish citizens overseas’

No, I am unable to fly home in order to vote though if I were been able to, would not hesitate. I feel that decision as important as the election of a president should involve the international community of Irish citizens overseas. The president of Ireland is the prime representative of Ireland internationally, and should be a person of tact, diplomacy and respectability.

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