Emma DeSouza, the citizen-activist who took a court challenge against the British government to assert her rights as an Irish citizen under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, has been appointed the Vice-Chair of VotingRights.ie and spokesperson for the group in Northern Ireland.
Co-Founder of VotingRights.ie Billy Lawless, former Senator for the Diaspora in the Irish Seanad, stated, “VotingRights.ie supported Emma’s efforts to protect her rights to identity as an Irish citizen under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. We believe Emma will be an excellent spokesperson for the over 800,000 Irish citizens living just over the Border. Emma will help us mobilize this community. Allowing all Irish citizens to vote for future Presidents is a tangible way to embrace a more inclusive and broader concept of the nation through the office of the Presidency.”
Emma DeSouza is a citizen rights advocate who, over the course of five years, challenged the UK government on her right to identify as Irish under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Her challenge exposed the fact that successive British governments failed to legislate to give full effect to the Belfast Agreement placing in jeopardy the rights of citizens in Northern Ireland to also maintain their status as E.U. citizens. Emma succeeded in her challenge and as a result the UK government agreed to allow Emma to identify as Irish as she sought to secure residency rights for her U.S.-born husband Jake DeSouza.
In response to her appointment Emma DeSouza stated, “I am honored to take up this appointment from VotingRights.ie. I think this is a natural follow on to the work that I have doing these last five years. Citizen’s rights should not stop at the Irish shoreline and they certainly should not stop at the Border. No government whether it is British or Irish should treat an entire class of people as second class citizens simply because they live in Derry or Belfast. I have always identified as Irish and we now know that 44% of all citizens living just over the Border hold Irish passports. If we want a shared Ireland let’s start by giving all Irish citizens the right to vote for future Irish Presidents.”
VotingRights.ie is an advocacy group that seeks to secure voting rights for Irish emigrants and citizens in Northern Ireland. Ireland’s restrictions on voting by citizens outside the State are among the most restrictive in Europe. There is no postal vote for most citizens living outside the state, and eligible citizens must return to Ireland to cast their ballot. Additionally, Irish emigrants lose their vote if they intend to be away from Ireland for more than 18 months. The current voting restrictions are relics of an outdated world view that has no place in the 21st century. No other nation in the EU has such draconian and undemocratic restrictions.
VotingRights.ie believes that there is an urgent need to reform and expand Ireland’s electoral voting system which now discriminates against over one third of all Irish citizens simply because of their geographical locations. The Irish government estimates that there are 1.45 million citizens living overseas. VotingRights.ie estimates that about 870,000 would be voting-age citizens eligible to vote.
Kevin J. Sullivan, who helped to launch VotingRights.ie noted, “I had the good fortune to work with and support Emma during her legal case. She represents a rising generation of young people in Northern Ireland who want the best for all people of Northern Ireland regardless of their tradition. That’s why she was so outspoken about the lack of Northern representation in the Irish Seanad. We find it astonishing that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and Irish emigrants have no voice in Leinster House. We have written to the new Minister for the Diaspora Colm Brophy and new Minister for Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan to seek a briefing on what we hope is an ambitious reform agenda which is long overdue.”