Irish emigrants may have voting rights extended to three years

#Hometovote movement in same-sex marriage referendum last month captured ‘hearts and minds’ of the nation, says Minister

Members of ‘Boat to Vote’, a group of Irish people returning to Dublin from London to vote in the May 22nd same-sex marriage referendum. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Members of ‘Boat to Vote’, a group of Irish people returning to Dublin from London to vote in the May 22nd same-sex marriage referendum. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

The Government is considering extending voting rights to Irish emigrants for three years after they leave the country without holding a referendum on the issue, Minister of State for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan has said.

Under existing electoral legislation, Irish citizens are entitled to vote for 18 months after they leave the country if they intend to return to live in Ireland within that timeframe.

Speaking at the first Global Irish Civic Forum at Dublin Castle yesterday, Mr Deenihan said there was a possibility this could be extended to 36 months “without going to the people”.

He said the “home-to-vote movement”, which saw recent Irish emigrants return to vote in the same-sex marriage referendum last month, had captured the “hearts and minds” of the nation.

“I have never seen young people so exercised about voting in my political career, and the fact that so many people came back made a major statement that us politicians will have to take note of and respond to.”

David Burns of We’re Coming Back, a youth organisation campaigning for full voting rights for Irish citizens living abroad, said that as emigrants were considered to be “ongoing ordinary residents” of Ireland for three years after their departure for tax purposes, there was no reason why they should not be considered ongoing residents for voting too.

“After 30 years of discussion and consideration, and zero reform, I think legislative reform is the only way to get the ball rolling on this issue. It is a first step.”

Civic forum

Almost 200 people working with Irish communities in 17 countries are taking part in the civic forum, which continues today. They are discussing the wellbeing of Irish migrants and what organisations working with them around the world can learn from each other.

Mr Deenihan said in recent years the relationship between Ireland and its diaspora had “moved from the individual, with stories and connections maintained at the family level, to more of a national appreciation and an international understanding of our global family as a whole unit”.

He said the forum was “a learning process” for the Government and would “help to shape its diaspora policy”.

Isolation

Mental health emerged as a key concern among those taking part. Joe Thompson, of the Irish Australian Support Association of Queensland, said the size of Australia and its distance from Ireland could make newly arrived migrants feel isolated.

He said the families of Irish workers employed on fly-in, fly-out contracts in the mines in Western Australia were particularly at risk.

“They come with their wife and children, and their family will be based in Perth and they could be working six hours away for three weeks, and one week back in Perth,” he said. “For those three weeks, that family have it tough, particularly if they are new migrants and haven’t got a support base there.”

Stephen Aherne, executive director of Irish Outreach San Diego, said alcohol and substance abuse among the Irish community were often interlinked with homesickness, depression and suicide.

“The high disposable incomes that our new arrivals often have access to, particularly in the construction industry, has a role to play in these social issues too, particularly in the work-hard, play-hard culture that often prevails on the building [sites],” he said.

A lack of pre-departure preparation was also a key problem for young Irish arriving in the US. “They are not bringing enough savings with them and get a shock when they arrive and find out the cost of living, particularly the cost of accommodation in cities like New York and San Francisco, ” he said.