Emigrants on why it is so important young people still in Ireland vote

One emigrant travelling home to cast her ballot and another abroad without a vote explain why Irish abroad are worried

Aoife Byrne: ‘On May 22nd I will travel home from the UK to vote Yes in the same-sex marriage referendum. But I will do so in the knowledge that many people just like me are not in that same position.’

Aoife Byrne: ‘On May 22nd I will travel home from the UK to vote Yes in the same-sex marriage referendum. But I will do so in the knowledge that many people just like me are not in that same position.’

 

Jensen Byrne: ‘I feel anxious and disenfranchised as I do what I can to encourage those at home to vote’

I believe in voting, and practice my belief diligently. I take the steps to educate myself about issues and candidates that I am not familiar with, and I try to make the best decision I can when I am handed my ballot paper.

It isn’t always easy. I have found myself many times, post work or college, on dark, wet, winter evenings with my polling card and passport in hand struggling to find the energy to take the 20-minute detour from my bus stop to the polling booth, often to vote on an issue with little direct relevance to my life. I have fought apathy and exhaustion, recognising that I would be tired again, energetic again on other days, but that today was polling day and a week from now that exhaustion would mean little in hindsight, and I will have voted.

I will have cast the vote won for me by the struggles of past generations who could not cast votes themselves. I will have cast it in recognition and respect for those currently denied their vote globally by issues such as mobility, accessibility, citizenship and age.

I reached the age of suffrage almost ten years ago and since then I have only missed one polling day, because I was out of the country for work reasons. I wasn’t particularly interested in the issue but I regretted not being able to cast my vote.

I’m in a similar position this week, but this time I am not just interested in the issue, but invested in it. The marriage equality referendum affects me personally, as a member of the LGBTQ community and I sincerely want my voice to be heard. And I feel helpless. I feel anxious and disenfranchised as I do what I can to encourage those at home to register, to speak to their families and to do what I cannot do and cast their vote.

But I cannot shake this feeling of powerlessness. I am terrified by the number of my friends and acquaintances from my age demographic, the demographic least inclined to vote anyway, who are also abroad whose voices will not be heard either in the upcoming referendum.

So many others like me who I am certain would vote Yes have been removed from our country’s democratic process as we pursue job opportunities abroad that we cannot find at home. There are also numerous Irish citizens abroad who want to cast their No vote, and they are equally stripped of their voting rights.

Many of us only intend to stay overseas for a short time, and plan to return to Ireland eventually having served our time in necessary exile. For now, we can only follow the debates online, feeling voiceless but hoping those still at home will use their vote and create a country we will be proud to return to.

I hope that soon, Irish citizens abroad will be able to vote in their home country on issues that directly affect them, their families and their friends.

Aoife Byrne: ‘I’m travelling home from the UK to vote Yes’

On May 22nd I will travel home from the UK to vote Yes in the same-sex marriage referendum. But I will do so in the knowledge that many people just like me are not in that same position.

Ireland’s provisions for overseas voters are among the most restrictive in Europe. Postal votes are only available in the most exceptional of circumstances. As a young person living in the UK, I am among the 250,000 Irish citizens who have emigrated since 2008. I am among the 70 per cent of those who are in their 20s. And I want to come back.

In a survey published on May 1st, 90 per cent of young Irish voters aged between 18 and 35 said they would vote Yes for equal marriage on May 22nd. But only 55 per cent said they would exercise their right to vote - a worryingly significant number of people who could make or break a Yes outcome. This is, of course, exacerbated by the considerable loss of young Irish voters to emigration.

From the UK, following coverage of the referendum has been both heartening and tense. News coverage outside Ireland has somewhat pessimistically worried about how Ireland will look to the rest of the world if the country says No.

Recent debates surrounding the possible introduction of voting rights for Irish emigrants are, of course, most welcome. But any such legislation will not be implemented in time for the same-sex marriage referendum. So many of us feel disenfranchised, and anxious over the outcome.

It has been reassuring to see many vote-eligible Irish emigrants (those who have left within the last 18 months, and plan to return to Ireland to live) who support equal rights pledge to come home to vote Yes.

Ultimately, I see myself living in Ireland. The people most important to me in the world are Irish. I want to be near my family to take care of them in their old age. Many of my emigrant Irish friends feel the same. All we ask is that Ireland will give us a say in shaping for the better the country to which we will later return.

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