VotingRights.ie seeks more inclusive citizenship in new programme of government

VotingRights.ie cofounder Billy Lawless, who has been an Independent member of the Seanad for the last four years, has written to Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin to express the importance of representation for emigrants, citizens in Northern Ireland, and other nonresident citizens in a new programme of government. In the memo, Mr Lawless said, “a new programme of government should embrace a more inclusive and broader concept of citizenship, unity and nationhood as it seeks to meet the many social, health and economic challenges resulting from the pandemic”.

The memo made a number of recommendations aimed at increasing inclusiveness and enhancing democracy:

  1. Stand up the long promised National Elections Commission by 2021
  2. Commit to holding a national referendum in 2021 to allow Irish emigrants and citizens living in Northern Ireland to vote in future Presidential elections
  3. Create a national voter registration system and an  automatic voter registration system  
  4. The principle of one person, one vote is extended to include all Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and to holders of Irish passports living overseas. This would require the expansion of the absentee ballot process and postal voting
  5. Allow emigrants living overseas and in Northern Ireland to vote in future national referenda. 
  6. Take up the challenge of acting on the many recommendations put forward by the Manning Report to reform the Seanad. 
  7. Create a Global Panel in the Seanad to include greater representation of Irish citizens living abroad and seek to add more Northern representation to the Seanad as well.

Read the full memo: Voting Rights & Electoral Reform in New Programme of Government 4 06 2020

Irish Times survey shows strong support for emigrant voting rights among recent emigrants

A new survey by the Irish Times has shown high levels of support among recent Irish emigrants for emigrant voting rights. The survey, which interviewed Irish nationals who emigrated after 2008, found:

62 per cent of respondents think they should be able to vote for the President, 63 per cent in general elections, 61 per cent in referendums and 53 per cent in Seanad elections. The remainder of those polled were fairly evenly split between those who had no opinion on the issue, or who didn’t think they should have a right to vote.

Young people were more likely to have strong views on the issue, with 76 per cent of people under 25 saying they were in favour of a vote for the President, in general elections and in referendums, compared with just 58 per cent of over-35s who wanted a vote in general elections, or 60 per cent in referendums.

Of those who were in favour of voting rights, approximately six in 10 believed they should have a say indefinitely after leaving Ireland, while about one in three said it should be limited to a certain number of years.

Levels of opposition to voting were low, with 19% saying they did not think they should have a vote in Presidential elections, 20% for Dail elections, and 19% for referendums, with approximately equal number saying they were not sure. Only 53% of those polled said they should have the vote in Seanad elections, with 23% saying no and 24% uncertain.

The study covered a number of areas relating to emigrants. Among its other findings was that 7 out of 10 believed the Irish government was not doing enough to encourage them to come home, and 55% believed the economy had not improved enough to allow them to come home. 22% of emigrants reported that they did not plan to return to Ireland, while 21% envisioned coming back within three years, and 42% said they would come back “at some stage”.

The survey showed that emigrants keep in close contact with Ireland. 94% of emigrants reported using social media, with more than 80% using Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp to keep in touch with Ireland. 74% kept in touch with Irish current affairs, and 76% follow Irish media.

Only 11% of respondents living in countries outside the EU hold citizenship of their current country of residence (which means 89% of them are likely to be without voting rights). 43% of them have permanent residency and 31% are on long-term work visas. 5% of them were living without documentation.

The survey found that emigrants were better educated than the general population, with 72% of women and 60% of men holding a degree, Master’s or PhD.

Visit the Irish Times site for the full survey results.

Co-founder Billy Lawless appointed to Seanad

VotingRights.ie co-founder Billy Lawless has been appointed to the Seanad by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Mr Lawless is an advocate for undocumented Irish emigrants in the Chicago area, as well as a supporter of Irish emigrant voting rights. We are delighted to see his longtime support for the global Irish community recognized and that his appointment will allow him to bring his concerns to the Irish political process in a new way.

As we look forward to the future, we are optimistic for the implementation of the Manning Report on Seanad Reform, which has called for votes in the Seanad to be given to all citizens with a current Irish passport.

We are also optimistic that there will soon be moves afoot for the government to be taking a new look at fulfilling the Constitutional Convention promise to examine the issue of voting rights for the Irish abroad in presidential elections. Co-founders Noreen Bowden and Kevin Sullivan met the Taoiseach in Washington DC last week; Mr Kenny stated emphatically that the issue voting rights in presidential elections would be top priority for the new Junior Minister for the Diaspora, since named as Donegal TD Joe McHugh.

Indo highlights barriers to return

Several experts have called for an examination of barriers faced by returning emigrants in an article in the Irish Independent.

The article focused on the high cost of car insurance for returnees, due to the fact that insurance companies currently do not take into account whether someone might have a clean driving record abroad:

Emigrants who have been gone for more than two years are being told that their ‘no claims bonus’ no longer applies as it is “impossible” for insurance companies to check the driving records of clients that have been living abroad.

One expat, who has been living in Melbourne for the last five years, says he is reconsidering plans to move home after being quoted an insurance rate of €5,400 for a2004 Audi A4 – a car worth an estimated €4,000. He was paying just €450 for car insurance on the same car before leaving in 2010.

This is part of a wider problem, as Piaras Mac Éinrí, lecturer in migration studies at University College Cork, points out:

“Would-be return emigrants face multiple hurdles now, notably in housing, insurance, transferability of pension rights and rising costs for health care which in most cases will be inferior than that available in the countries where they are now,” he said.

“Cutbacks in pay levels and uncertainty in contract terms mean that in certain cases there can be considerable gaps in wages and prospects elsewhere and here. These are powerful incentives for staying away,” he said.


Marie-Claire McAleer, head of research and policy at the National Youth Council of Ireland, is also quoted as calling on the Government to prioritise and tackle the obstacles that returning expats face,  noting  that “Although work has been done to address some of the barriers to return experienced by young Irish emigrants, many challenges remain”.

It is good to see the issue of car insurance costs highlighted as an issue effecting emigrants who want to return. The effects of domestic policies on returning emigrants are an important demonstration, of course, of why emigrants need a voice in the political system. While commercial agents like car insurance companies may be harder to influence, politicians and policy-makers need to be more aware of the effects of their actions on all citizens: resident,  non-resident, and those hoping to return.

Read more about policies affecting emigrants.


USI joins VotingRights.ie in calling for vote

The Union of Students in Ireland has teamed up with VotingRights.ie to call for voting rights for Irish citizens abroad. Here’s the press release from USI:

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and VotingRights.ie are partnering to campaign for a vote for Irish citizens abroad. USI are the leading partners on the new campaign in Ireland after the recent constitutional convention found that those participating voted 78% in favour of the question “Should citizens resident outside the State have the right to vote in Presidential elections?”

USI and VotingRights.ie believe in modernising the absentee ballot process, and those Irish citizens abroad and Irish groups abroad should have representation on a newly established Electoral commission. VotingRights.ieand USI are calling for a referendum on Irish citizens aboard to have voting rights in time for the next Presidential election.

“Campaigns led by young people such as the #HomeToVote and the#GetTheBoat2Vote campaigns during the marriage equality referendum last year showed that the efforts of Irish citizens abroad to be involved in shaping their country is real”, USI President Kevin Donoghue said.

“We believe that many Irish citizens have left their home, for whatever reason, and many of those who left have the desire to play a significant role in their native state” Annie Hoey, USI Deputy President, said. “Many Irish citizens may wish to return home to a country they had an active role in shaping through their democratic right by voting.”

“We are delighted to be joining up with USI in campaigning to secure voting rights for the one-in-six Irish born citizens now living abroad” said Noreen Bowden, one of the co-founders of VotingRights.ie “ including the hundreds of the thousands of young people who were forced to leave Ireland to find work in recent years. It’s important that young people be fully informed of the current situation and know that if they leave the country it means they will be losing their votes as well. Ireland is at the bottom of the E.U. tables when it comes to protecting the right of its overseas citizens to vote. Indeed, over 125 nations protect the right of their citizens living overseas to vote but not Ireland.”

Bowden went on,”Irish citizens, like emigrants of every other country, are affected by policy decisions made at home. These policy decisions can affect whether there will be jobs for emigrants who want to return, for example. They can also affect their access to education or support for job seeking when they return. And while they are away, they could be affected by matters such as emigrant support or consular protection if they run into difficulties. This is not a sentimental matter- it’s a matter of citizens of a nation being allowed a say in their futures.”

USI believes that by giving Irish citizens abroad a vote it will be a step forward for Irish citizens in terms of international equality, and appropriate Irish representation both at home and abroad. USI have joined VotingRights.ie, to advance the cause of Irish citizens’ voting rights abroad through uniting the global leadership of the movement; informing decision-makers, media and citizens on issues related to emigrant voting; and providing a platform for interested citizens. VotingRights.ie is a non-political, citizen-based initiative.

Proclamation video illustrates strength of connection

In case you missed it, this video of Irish people at home and abroad reciting the proclamation of 1916 as part of the Centenary commemorations is well worth watching. It’s a moving illustration of the strength of the connection between Ireland and the Irish abroad.


Letter to Taoiseach calls for steps toward voting rights

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.


Ireland’s first Minister for Diaspora accomplished much – and the post should be retained

Representatives of groups working with Irish people abroad have called for the post of the Minister of State for the Diaspora to be retained. Minister Jimmy Deenihan’s electoral loss prompted a Generation Emigration roundup of commenters heralding his accomplishments and citing the impact of his work and the importance of the position. Those commenting include representatives of Irish In Britain, Get the Boat to Vote, National Youth Council of Ireland, Crosscare Migrant Project, IN-USA and several others.

Many of the correspondents mentioned the Global Irish Civic Forum as being among the highlights of Minister Deenihan’s tenure. Nearly all called for the continuation of the role in the next government.

Our comments are below – this can also be found with the rest of the contributions at the Generation Emigration blog.


Noreen Bowden
Founder of GlobalIrish.ie and co-founder of VotingRights.ie

Jimmy Deenihan knew when he was appointed as Minister that his tenure was likely to be short before the next election. He pledged to move fast, and he leaves behind a record of accomplishment. The launch of the Global Irish Diaspora Strategy and the Global Irish Civic Forum stand out as obvious highlights, for example.

I personally treasure the Minister’s active role in ensuring that the needs of RTÉ’s longwave listeners in Britain and beyond were not ignored when RTÉ announced that it wanted to prematurely shut down this valuable link with home. His attention to the outcry, and subsequent announcement that the Government would fund research into the needs of this community, many of whom are elderly and isolated, was a most welcome move. It demonstrated Mr Deenihan’s responsiveness to the needs of Irish communities abroad, and his respect and concern for some of Ireland’s more vulnerable citizens, to whom Ireland owes a tremendous debt.

It would be an enormous step backward if the post of Minister of State for the Diaspora were to be abandoned. It would certainly be a move that would not go unnoticed by the Irish abroad – many of whom will be expecting increasing political inclusion to match both Ireland’s intensifying economic diaspora outreach, as well as changing realities of global norms regarding emigrant citizenship and political participation.

Instead, the post should be made permanent and strengthened, and accompanied by an emphasis on increasing the awareness of the needs, aspirations and contributions of Irish citizens abroad throughout the political system. The retention of the Minister for the Diaspora post should be just one of many steps the government should undertake to strengthen the relationship between the nation and its overseas citizens, particularly the one in six Irish-born citizens who have lost the right to vote through emigration. We are, of course, awaiting moving forward with the Constitutional Convention’s recommendations on emigrant voting in Presidential elections, as well as the policy review on emigrant voting as outlined in the Global Irish diaspora strategy. The Seanad Reform Working Group’s recommendations, which would extend the Seanad vote to citizens abroad, also remain outstanding.

The appointment of Jimmy Deenihan as Minister of State for Diaspora Affairs was a genuinely innovative step that was welcomed by so many in the diaspora. Ireland needs to continue to demonstrate how seriously it takes its relationship with the Irish abroad – this is more urgent than ever as we commemorate the events of 1916, and contemplate how closely we adhere to the ideals of a movement that called for a Republic “elected by the suffrages of all her men and women” and made a commitment to cherish “all the children of the nation equally”.