A number of groups have sent a joint letter to the Taoiseach as he negotiates to form the next government, with a number of recommendations aimed at putting the emigrant vote into the next programme for government. VotingRights.ie was joined in signing the letter by other emigrant groups We’re Coming Back,Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) in Great Britain, Irish Chamber of Commerce in Australia, the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) in Silicon Valley, the Irish German Business Network and the newly formed Irish Association of Latin America.
The letter has received coverage in the Irish Times.
The full text of the letter is available in PDF here. Here is the list of policy recommendations we made:
1. Maintain a Minister for Diaspora Affairs position within the Cabinet. In addition, strengthen the position of Diaspora Minister with a Cabinet committee linking all departments with diaspora engagement.
2. Act promptly on the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention, and allow a referendum in 2017 giving emigrants and Irish citizens in Northern Ireland the right to vote in the 2019 Presidential election.
To announce a date for referendum proposed by Constitutional Convention and publish draft legislation enabling overseas and Northern Ireland voters to participate in presidential elections.
3. Give all citizens including emigrants and Irish citizens residing in Northern Ireland the right to vote on all future constitutional elections. The return of many Irish citizens to Ireland in 2015 to vote in the constitutional referendum on same-sex marriage was an inspiration to the people of Ireland and affirmation of the deep desire of Irish emigrants to be active citizens and full participants in shaping the future of Ireland. Constitutional changes, of course, affect all citizens, resident and nonresident alike.
4. Ensure a Diaspora voice in a reformed Seanad Accept the recommendations of the Seanad Reform Working Group by extending the vote to citizens abroad to ensure Diaspora representation in the chamber.
5. Grant the right to vote in elections to the Dáil to all Irish citizens including emigrants by the creation of a system of reserved constituencies. A system of reserved constituencies would be a compromise that would allow a balance between adequate representation of overseas citizens and the fear that emigrant votes would ‘swamp’ the votes of resident citizens. This system, used by nations including France, Italy and Portugal, assigns dedicated constituencies for emigrants; we would envision, for example, the creation of a 5-seater overseas constituency in the Dáil.
6. Create an independent electoral commission to modernise Ireland’s electoral process including the creation of an absentee ballot process so Ireland can join more than 125 nations that currently meet the norms of a modern global democracy. This should be established by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. Emigrant groups should have significant representation on the commission.
7. Reform the current voting regulations to expand the time that emigrants can remain on their home electoral registrar. The current 18-month time limit is much too restrictive given the migration and return patterns of Ireland’s one million emigrants. Indeed, the vast majority of EU nations (all, in fact, except for the UK, Denmark, Cyprus and Malta) have no time limits at all. The government should engage with the global Irish community and EU voting experts to reconsider the conditions under which emigrants can remain on their home electoral register.
8. Creating an enduring partnership with Ireland’s global family The Government should continue the work of the Global Irish Economic Forum and build upon the success of the first Global Irish Civic Forum by extending its engagement, strengthening self-organisation for a return Forum in June 2017. We also note the importance of maximising the link between Ireland and all of its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable. To this end, we seek the continuation of RTE’s longwave service to the UK as a vital symbol of Ireland’s commitment to its relationship with the Irish abroad, and particularly to the welfare of the generation of emigrants who sacrificed so much to assist Ireland in the last century.
9. Increase consular representation to main centers of recent emigration Since 2008 over 250,000 Irish born citizens have emigrated, and migration patterns have been shifting to newer destinations. The Government should undertake an immediate review of consular representation in the main centers of recent emigration, such as Australia, to ensure that staffing and activities adequately reflect the changing needs of growing Irish communities.
10. Engage the global diaspora in the current government review of emigrant voting rights We ask the government to complete the study by the end of 2016 on emigrant voting rights which was announced in March 2015 as part of the new Global Diaspora Policy and to engage the Diaspora community on the result. This study was to be undertaken by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs.