An Irish emigrant living in London has announced his candidacy for the Seanad. Barry Johnston, who describes himself as “a civil servant and human rights campaigner” write in a Generation Emigration column today that he is running for one of three seats on the NUI panel.
His decision was prompted by his return home last year for the marriage referendum:
I can pinpoint my moment of conversion precisely. Walking – bouncing is probably more accurate – through Dublin airport after the weekend of the marriage referendum last May, the weight returned to my feet as I boarded the plane. Was it the usual sentimental hangover of a weekend spent back at home? The feeling, I came to recognise, was that of unfinished business.
Sure we came home to vote; those of us who could. And it was bloody great. But why should we be forced to travel for exercising such a fundamental right?
It should be noted as well that most don’t get even the option to travel to exercise this right – as the law requires intent to return within 18 months as a condition for staying on the register. He continues:
These are not just questions for emigrants. They emerge from the same questions we all need to ask ourselves about who gets to make decisions, and in whose interests; who are the insiders and the outsiders?
The Irish State needs to offer a “new deal” to its citizens abroad. At its heart, this must tackle the issue of voting rights, but it goes wider and deeper than that. It must address the social and economic drivers of emigration, which affect those who remain as much as those who have left.
The new deal should also include representation that will address the needs of Ireland’s overseas citizens while they are abroad – in matters including but not limited to issues such as policies that will affect the opportunity of return, overseas broadcasting policies, emigrant support budget, consular services, diaspora policies and more.
Mr Johnston’s candidacy for the Seanad slot also calls to mind the April 2015 Report of the Working Group on Seanad Reform, which made the recommendation, “That Irish citizens with current passports living abroad be eligible to register and vote on the panel of their choice.”