Emigrant groups form coalition to push for voting rights

‘It’s time for Ireland to live up to the inclusive vision laid out by the Proclamation’

Groups representing Irish emigrants from Britain, the US, Australia, Germany and Latin America have formed a "global coalition" to put pressure on the next government to introduce voting rights for Irish citizens overseas.

In letters sent to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, the coalition, led by VotingRights.ie, has called on the next government to "end the current disfranchisement of one-in-six Irish-born citizens who are emigrants".

Ireland is one of only three countries in the EU, along with Greece and Malta, which does not allow its citizens overseas to vote. The new coalition claims that more than 125 countries worldwide have some provision to enable absentee citizens to cast a ballot from abroad.

More than 250,000 Irish people have moved abroad since 2008, and “many of these emigrants are eager to return home with new talents to raise families and contribute to the strength of the nation,” the coalition said in the letters to Mr Kenny and Mr Martin.

“While we are away, and until we can return home, we would like the government to uphold our Constitutional rights as citizens. Many policies that the Dáil and the government enact have a direct impact on our lives and our ability to return home. Yet we have no voice or say in these deliberations.”

The coalition praised the previous Fine Gael/Labour government for publishing Ireland's first diaspora policy, appointing the first minister of State for the diaspora, and holding the first Global Irish Civic Forum, which saw representatives from Irish groups around the world gather in Dublin last May to discuss issues of concern, but said little progress had been made on the issue of political representation for the Irish abroad.

The letters outline 10 key recommendations for the next government, including the creation of a five-seater “reserved constituency” to represent overseas voters in the Dáil, similar to the system in place in France, Portugal and Italy.

The letters also recommend extending voting rights to citizens abroad in referendums and Seanad elections; establishing an independent electoral commission to modernise the electoral process to include emigrants; and maintaining the position of Minister for Diaspora Affairs at cabinet level.

Among the groups signing who signed the letter are Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) in Britain, the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) in Silicon Valley, the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce, We’re Coming Back, the Irish German Business Network and the newly formed Irish Association of Latin America.

"With Ireland celebrating the centenary of 1916, it's time for Ireland to live up to the inclusive vision laid out by the Proclamation, of a republic 'representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women'," said Noreen Bowden, co-founder of VotingRights.ie.

“Our proposal for the programme of government seeks to fulfil the promise of the Rising: our initiative is comprehensive, democratic, and long overdue.”