1st March 2021, 8.30am – 3.00pm (GMT)
A major digital conference will take place on 1 March 2021 to discuss Irish citizenship, the role of emigrants and voting rights.
Organised by VotingRights.ie and the Clinton Institute for American Studies at UCD, in association with EPIC: The Emigration Museum and VICA (Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad), the event will feature a number of prominent Irish politicians and academics, as well as activists and members of the diaspora taking part from around the world. The conference is free and open for registration on Eventbrite.
The conference comes at a crucial time for Irish citizens at home and abroad, with the reality of Brexit now biting, and the global pandemic ongoing. The discussions will respond to the Irish government’s diaspora strategy, and the commitment to a referendum extending the franchise in presidential elections to all Irish citizens.
The conference will be accompanied by the release of a major new poll on attitudes to voting rights in Ireland, and the publication of The Citizenship Papers – a series of essays commissioned to explore what it means to be an Irish citizen.
The event will be attended by Minister for the Diaspora Colm Brophy and Minister for Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan. It will include representatives from major political parties across the island of Ireland, including Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, SDLP, the Greens, Alliance, and independent unionists. A full list of attendees will be released in due course.
Irish emigrants from the worlds of academia, law and media will join the conference from around the world to discuss the role of emigrants in Irish society and the need for electoral reform which accommodates citizens voting from abroad. The implications and opportunities of Irish citizenship in Northern Ireland will also be explored.
Former Senator for the Diaspora Billy Lawless has long campaigned for voting rights for all Irish citizens, and will play a key role in the day. Lawless said: “Emigration now is not permanent, it’s temporary, the majority of them fully intend to return.”
Emma DeSouza, citizenship campaigner and Vice Chair of VotingRights.ie, will chair a session on ‘Northern Voices’ and the extension of voting rights to citizens north of the border. DeSouza said: “As more and more people in Northern Ireland claim their birthright to Irish citizenship it’s essential that we establish what that citizenship entails and explore how to fully engage and recognise the legitimacy of all Irish citizens both in Northern Ireland and abroad.”
“The Irish nation is broad and diverse and a most essential proponent in what it means to be an Irish citizen. As someone who has successfully campaigned to reaffirm Irish citizens rights in Northern Ireland it strikes me that the current electoral system in Ireland perpetuates a hierarchy of Irishness. That those of us who live half an hour up the road or across the Irish sea cannot vote for the President of Ireland is an outdated and discriminatory practice that undervalues the commitment and contributions of Irish citizens resident outside the State. The people of Ireland have taken progressive leaps in shirking the once conservative shroud which dominated Irish society in order to carve out a more inclusive, rights-based society – embracing a more inclusive concept of Irish citizenship is a logical next step for a country ushering in change.”
Other discussions on the day will focus on ‘Voices of Emigrants’, the constitutional and legal issues around citizenship and electoral reform, and an in-depth look at poll results with Kevin Cunningham.
Dr Liam Kennedy, of the Clinton Institute at UCD, said: “For too long the issue of emigrant enfranchisement has been pushed to the margins as Irish governments celebrate ‘our global diaspora’. It is time to consider how we can enlarge and honour our ideas of democratic citizenship and test the state’s political will to give emigrants voting rights.”
Emma DeSouza of VotingRights.ie, Ben Kelly of VICA (Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad) and Dr Liam Kennedy of UCD will be available for media opportunities in advance of the conference and on the day itself.