Author: VotingRights.ie

Sign Uplift’s emigrant vote petition

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Uplift has started a petition and social media campaign to support emigrant voting rights ahead of Friday’s general election. Sign it on their website, Uplift.ie.

Noting that 1 in 6 Irish voters won’t be able to cast their vote because they’re living overseas, they say “#Uplift has teamed up with organisations fighting for the rights of Irish emigrants across the world to make sure that the next government promises this will be last election so many Irish people are barred from voting.”

They note the excitement over emigrant participation in last year’s referendum on equal marriage, and yet Ireland remains one of three countries in the EU that denies citizens abroad the right to vote:

Together we can use this election to force voting rights for emigrants onto the agenda of a new government and turn promises into real action.

The first step is to gather as many voices as possible over the coming week and to make sure both voters and candidates feel the strength of our voice the day before the election. This is the day political parties and candidates are not allowed on the airwaves so it’s a perfect moment for us to flood social media with a message from Irish emigrants living in every corner of the world. We have a great chance of making sure voting rights for emigrants gets on the table when the new government sits down to plan the next few years.

Candidates launch “Emigrant Manifesto”

Two candidates running in the upcoming Seanad election have launched their “Emigrant Manifesto”, outlining their campaign for voting rights and other issues for Irish citizens abroad. Roscommon native Barry Johnston, who works as a human rights advocate in London, had announced in December that he was running for the NUI panel in the upcoming Seanad elections. Dubliner Ed Davitt, who works for a marine environmental NGO in Brussels, has just announced he is running for a Seanad seat on the Trinity College panel.

Their manifesto was based on a survey of emigrants and developed in consultation with organisations such as The Crosscare Migrant Project; Irish Business Network Berlin; Irish Australia Chamber of Commerce; The London Irish Centre; Votingrights.ie; and the Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad Campaign.

The document calls for an electoral commission to develop an absentee ballot process, a referendum on the presidential vote in time for the next presidential elections, a commission to explore the right of all citizens to vote with the creation of a 5-seat-overseas constituency, and a reformed Seanad that would allow a voice for Irish citizens abroad.

They candidates are also calling for an approach to the diaspora that incorporates the whole of government, an Irish emigrant register, expansion of the Emigrant Support Programme, and the creation of Emigrant Bonds. It advocates a return policy that would incorporate a comprehensive information service, increased return preparation, and enhanced education and housing options to meed additional demands from returnees.

Visit their campaign website at emigrantmanifesto.irish.

Indo article highlights importance of emigrant input

An article in the Irish Independent suggests that government policies aimed at encouraging emigrants to return may increase tensions between emigrants and residents who never left.

Citing competition for jobs and housing as being primary points of potential resentment, writer Claire McCormack outlines the uptick in returnees:

Over the last 12 months, there has been a steady increase in numbers of expats returning home. Approximately 250,000 left during the downturn but around 120,000 have already come back. Some are coming from the UK and Canada but the majority are leaving Australia.

Marriage, a desire to raise their families in Ireland, and the responsibility of caring for aging parents are among the main reasons for their return. Australia’s economy has also dipped. Industries benefiting most from the arrival of highly- skilled, internationally seasoned workers include banking, financial services, IT, law and engineering.

McCormack writes of the potential for “ruffled feathers”, noting difficulties of assimilating foreign-born children, unwelcoming attitudes from coworkers, difficulties reconnecting socially, and accusations that emigrants abandoned the country in difficult times. The article also quotes several experts who express some doubt that the return drives will work at bringing people home. It also quotes Karen McHugh, the CEO of Safe Home, who noted older emigrants feel neglected by the government: “the older group of emigrants have definitely been forgotten, any diaspora policy is all about getting the upwardly mobile, educated and qualified back. Even though there might be some mention of this group, in practice we’re finding it very difficult”. McCormack adds, “Barriers this group face include: qualifying for housing needs, applying for pensions and accessing entitlements.”

Read the article on the Irish Independent website.

McCormack’s article highlights the need for emigrants to be engaged in the discourse about their future. Emigrants should be able to have their own needs and aspirations represented in the political system. While this is particularly clear at a time when the government is seeking to bring them back, it is important to remember that there are many policy decisions that affect can emigrants at any stage of the economic cycle – and when emigrants are deprived of a voice in the political process, it ensures that politicians and the public will be less informed, policy makers will find it harder to adequately address their needs, and these non-resident citizens are likely to suffer the consequences.

 

IrishCentral.com article calls for votes for emigrants

An article on IrishCentral.com says that Ireland has yet to achieve the ideals of 1916 as evidenced by the fact that “20% of all Irish citizens are disenfranchised from the right to vote and are silenced as soon as they set off from the loneliest of airports.”

Author Morgan O’Sullivan, an Irish citizens who has lived abroad for 12 years, cites the contributions of Irish emigrants, noting government efforts to increase engagement:

However our greatest export is our people and the amazing young minds that have left the island to build a new life further afield. They have become ambassadors on every level and have grown to the top levels in industry and business and society around the globe. The Irish government has been happy to invite them home for “The Gathering” and been happy to invite Irish owned companies back to the emerald isle to set up and invest in the country. All of these are good and positive things. Surely it is not too much to allow these Irish citizens living abroad a say in how they want to see Ireland grow and develop.

O’Sullivan addresses the objection that emigrants do not pay taxes – an argument frequently cited by opponents of emigrant voting rights in Ireland, although it evidently holds little weight in the 125+ countries and territories that offer emigrant voting rights and have no income tax for emigrants.

The detractors will suggest that the emigrant is not entitled to have a say in the affairs of the country, with the old adage “no representation without taxation”. After all, why should those living abroad be afforded a voice in the affairs of the country, when they are not even living there? With 20% of the Irish nation now living overseas, surely it is not too much to ask for their input when it comes to leading our country? In terms of taxation, the reality is that only the United States in the developed world places a tax on its citizens on foreign earned income. Eritrea follows America’s lead. It is not demanded amongst any of our European counterparts and nearly every country has some form of emigrant voting rights.

O’Sullivan believes emigrant voting rights are suited to the nation’s ideals:

Bunreacht na hEireann states that it is the “birthright of every person born in the Island of Ireland … to be a part of the Irish Nation”. Wouldn’t it be nice if all those Irish citizens living abroad were allowed to be heard? The spirit and hope of 1916 seeks to inspire the youth of today to embrace new dreams and ideals. Is it too much of a dream to give our loved ones away from home a say in how the country is run? Surely it is their country as much as ours?

See the whole article on IrishCentral.com.

Niall O’Dowd: the right to live and work at home is “deeply important”

New York-based Irish publisher Niall O’Dowd editorialises on emigration on IrishCentral.com, writing about the flip side of the airport family reunions that feature so prominently in the media in the days running up to Christmas: the farewell.

“What is amazing is how little times have changed,” he writes. “You could have witnessed the same farewell scenes anytime in the last 50 years since air travel back home became a real possibility.”  He writes about the involuntary nature of emigration:

Every 30 years the exodus trend manifests itself –1920s, 1950s, 1980s and 2010 — with a relentless reality that underscores how little ever changes.

Of course emigration for those who want to leave is a question of choice, but for so many who depart it is an involuntary experience, not one they want to undergo.

There is an ambivalence about emigration in the Irish psyche, a sense on both sides of  the issue of unease. There have been many wonderful changes for the better in Ireland, a far more tolerant political consensus, an excellent education system, a far greater sense of looking outward than in– but emigration continues to cloud the horizon.

You will get crackpot theories that the island is too small to sustain so many which is nonsense, Manhattan has twice the population of Ireland in a 13.5 mile long island, for instance.

The fundamental question remains as to what to make of a country that fails in its primary task of cherishing its people equally and giving all an opportunity.To its credit,  the current government is now seeking to bring emigrants back home saying there is finally jobs in the improving economy.

It will be interesting to see if many emigrants take it up. The right to live and work in your own country is a deeply important one. It would be hugely encouraging if Ireland ended involuntary emigration.Whether that can be achieved will be clear soon enough and it will manifest itself in the departure gates of every Irish airport next January.

We added the bold emphasis. We would also assert that the right to vote in one’s home country is as vital as the right to live and work. Surely keeping the right to vote in one’s home country would also help to ensure the right to live and work there.

VotingRights.ie cofounder writes: It’s time in 2016

VotingRights.ie co-founder Kevin Sullivan has an article in the Irish Times’ Generation Emigration, linking the commemoration of 1916 with the fact that Ireland disenfranchises its overseas citizens.

Below is the article in full: 

It’s time in 2016 to grant Irish abroad the right to vote

So it has begun. The Centennial Year: 40 State-sponsored events, hundreds of local commemorations, events in New York and Washington DC and countless other places where the Irish diaspora has gathered.

After a shaky start, the Government has righted itself and come forward with a thoughtful and comprehensive programme that culminates in a series of Easter anniversary events and a major national conference on the future of the Republic 100 years on. Countless books will be published, and historians will be in demand on talk shows as Irish people take a long look back of what they have made of the Republic. Everything thing seems well in hand to celebrate how far we have come, except for the reality that one million Irish emigrants are effectively non-citizens of this Republic. They can’t vote.

When it comes to the matter of emigrants, Ireland is of two minds; the current Government’s policies reflect that divide. One the one hand, the Department of Foreign Affairs under Charlie Flanagan embraces the diaspora and has smartly branded Ireland as a “Global Island”. The DFA has an energetic Minister for Diaspora Affairs in Jimmy Deenihan, has included the diaspora in its centennial planning, and last year held its first Global Civic Forum, bringing together scores of emigrants representatives.

The rest of the Government, however, seems unwilling to address the reality that Ireland lacks a modern absentee ballot process, and lags behind every nation in the EU save for tiny Malta when it comes to giving its emigrant citizens the right to vote. Indeed, the Republic lags behind the vast majority of nations in the world, about 125, that have already established an absentee ballot process for their citizens.

Ireland is reluctant to embrace the modern reality that it is an island nation that sends its children out into the world, including the hundreds of thousands of Irish-born and educated university graduates who were forced to leave Ireland in the last five years. Economically, this generation of young Irish people had no choice but to leave Ireland to find work. These young people, who make up a new generation of emigrants, immediately become second-class citizens the minute they leave the departure lounge at Dublin Airport.

In the coming year, President Michael D Higgins and the Taoiseach will travel the world and extol the contributions of the diaspora, and the meaning of the Rising. But their words will seem hollow to many emigrants when juxtaposed against the language of the Easter Proclamation, which called for the creation of a Republic “elected by the suffrages of all her men and women” and a commitment to cherish “all the children of the nation equally”.

If nothing else, in the coming year the people of Ireland need to have an open and honest debate about the meaning of citizenship for the 20 per cent of the Irish nation now living overseas. Emigrants have played an enormous role in shaping the destiny of the Republic. Two of the signers of the Proclamation – Thomas J. Clarke and James Connolly — were emigrants, and many of the men and women who fought in the GPO were Irish-born but living in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. Indeed, the Rising would never have taken place without the sustained support of Ireland’s “exiled children in America”.

And yet here we are, 100 years later, about to spend an entire year extolling a Republic that denies full citizenship to the 20 per cent of its population who are emigrants. No other modern democracy in the EU (and few around the world) has such a dismal record when it comes to protecting the Constitutional rights of their emigrant citizens. Ireland may be a Republic in name, but at the moment it is a Republic that lacks a democratic imagination of what it could and should be.

Ireland surely can do better. Some emigrants and supporters have come together on VotingRights.ie to suggest a number of measures to improve Ireland’s approach to emigrant citizenship. First, the Taoiseach must fulfil his Constitutional Convention promise and hold a Referendum that would allow Irish citizens living abroad the right to vote for the next President of the Ireland in 2019.

Second, Ireland needs to appoint an Election Commission to create a modern, up-to-date absentee ballot process that meets the EU standards of citizenship and human rights.

Third, establish a commission in 2016 to explore the right of all citizens to vote on future constitutional referendums, and the creation of a diaspora 5-seater constituency in the Dáil, with a report released by the end of 2017.

Fourth, build upon success of the first Global Irish Civic Forum by extending its engagement, strengthening self-organisation for a return Forum in June 2017, and a major event in June 2019.

Finally, the Irish people who boldly took Ireland into the 21st Century by voting Yes to support same-sex marriage in the recent referendum need to be equally bold and demand equal citizenship for their sons and daughters now living abroad.

The Easter Proclamation signed by seven brave patriots called for the “allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman”. Irish citizens proudly affirm their allegiance to the Republic wherever they are around the world. At the same time, they seek their “equal rights and equal opportunities” as Irish citizens and desire to be full participants in the growth of a 21st century Irish Republic.

The time has come to fulfil the promise of the Rising and give Irish citizens living abroad their Constitutional birthright as citizens: the right to vote and be full participants in the democratic life of the Republic.

Kevin Sullivan is a co-founder of Votingrights.ie and former chairman of the board of the Washington Ireland Program.

VICA launches Right to Vote postcard campaign

Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) has launched a campaign to empower the families and friends of emigrants to advocate on their behalf with politicians. Writing in the “Generation Emigration” blog, London-based VICA member Sarah Cantwell explains the postcard

provides relevant information and questions that family and friends can use when they meet a politician canvassing for the general election in 2016. Since Irish politicians have no mandate to listen to the voices of Irish citizens abroad, we figure we need to get our families and friends in Ireland to speak to the politicians on our behalf and push for our right to vote.

You can help out with this campaign by sharing the Right to Vote postcard on social media, by personally sending it to your family and friends, and by mentioning it on the phone or telling people about it if you’re able to get home for the season’s festivities. Our families and friends in Ireland already consult and include us when they’re making decisions about the future. Now we need to make sure they let politicians know that they want us to have a say in elections and referenda in Ireland.

For more information, see vica.ie/events/right_to_vote_postcard

VICA-Right-to-Vote-Postcard

London-based emigrant announces Seanad candidacy

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.

Johnston is a member of VICA, and has a campaign page on Facebook.

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.”

Get the Boat to Vote organiser on emigrant vote and return campaigns

Emigrant voting rights are likely to be discussed at this weekend’s Other Voices music festival in Dingle, as a special Generation Emigrant panel examines ways to encourage the “Creative Diaspora” to return home. The Irish Times carries a report in advance, which is worth reading.

Joey Kavanagh of the Get the Boat to Vote campaign is particularly eloquent on the need for emigrant voting:

For this reason, it was such a joy to work on the Get the Boat 2 Vote campaign earlier this year, encouraging vote-eligible Irish citizens abroad to return home to vote yes in the same-sex marriage referendum. It was incredible to hear from the Irish nationals living abroad who come #HomeToVote, determined to play their part in seeing the referendum passed.

Time and time again, we heard how these people saw themselves returning to live in Ireland at some point in the future, and felt a responsibility to help shape the Ireland they want to return home to.

I know that I’ll return to settle in Ireland at some point. There’s never been any question about that. So, it’s incredibly frustrating that this week, having now lived outside of Ireland for 18 months, I’m officially no longer eligible to vote in Irish elections and referendums.

Ireland’s voting provisions for citizens abroad are among the most restrictive in the Western world and the Irish government has, so far, ignored calls from both the European Commission and Constitutional Convention to review its “disenfranchising” of emigrant voters.

It’s disappointing that Irish citizens abroad continue to be excluded from casting ballots, even after the collective effort of those who came #HomeToVote demonstrated very clearly that the diaspora feel hugely invested in the future of Irish democracy.

If Ireland is serious about curtailing the so-called brain drain and encouraging return migration, a major step forward would be to afford equal voting rights to all citizens and recognise that, in 2015, the Irish nation extends far beyond the Irish State.

Read the full article on the Irish Times website. 

See more on the Other Voices website.

Mary Hickman on why it’s time to give emigrants the vote

Professor Mary Hickman, the head of Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad, has written an article in the Irish Times  detailing VICA’s plans to push for emigrant voting rights in 2016.

She explains that the issue is becoming increasingly relevant, with the pressure building from a number of political sources within Ireland:

Pressure is not only mounting in the diaspora but also within Ireland itself. Each body that examines the issue in detail concludes that the franchise should be extended to citizens living abroad.

The Fifth Report of the Convention on the Constitution issued in November 2013 recommended amending the Constitution to give citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections at Irish embassies, or otherwise. The Government has yet to respond by organising a debate in the Dáil as it had promised to do within four months.

The House of Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs issued a report in 2014 recommending that the Government accept the principle that voting rights should be extended to Irish citizens abroad; that the Government should proceed to design a system that would be workable in an Irish context; and an Electoral Commission should be established to implement these recommendations.

Still the Government prevaricates. Always, the message is that there are many practical and operational challenges to consider. But dozens of countries around the world have sorted out workable arrangements. There are many examples to learn from.

The Government requested in early 2015 that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, in cooperation with Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State for Diaspora Affairs, analyse the eligibility criteria and practical considerations for any extension of the franchise. We still await the publication of this cross-departmental analysis.

Professor Hickman outlines VICA’s plans for the 2016 election:

We will ask existing TDs and all candidates for a pledge on the issue. Manifesto commitments have proven unreliable in the past.

We will ask the friends and families of citizens abroad to raise the issue on the doorstep with candidates seeking election to the Dáil. Many people voting next year will be a parent, sibling or close friend of an emigrant abroad.

We will run a media campaign focusing on social media; the press; and local radio stations in Ireland.

This is an issue whose time has come, and implementing votes for Irish citizens abroad will bring so many benefits to Ireland flowing in on a tide of goodwill.

Visit vica.ie for more information.