“The people are splendid”
The last words written in the diary of Michael Collins before his death
The Early History of Voting in Ireland
- Until the third decade of the 19th century Catholics could not hold public office including the position of Member of Parliament. In 1829 the Great Liberator Daniel Connell led the effort known as Catholic Emancipation which finally allowed Catholics (and dissenting Protestants and Jews) to hold public office.
- However, in order for the Protestant minority not to be out-voted in Ireland, in exchange for Catholic Emancipation, the electorate in Ireland was actually radically cut. In a population of about 8 million, the electorate was cut from 216,000 to 37,000 men as the property qualification for voting was raised from 40 shillings to £10 income per year.
The Fight for Independence
- Thomas Clarke, who returned to Ireland as a citizen of the United States, was one of 95 emigrants who fought in the Easter Rebellion. James Connelly had also emigrated to the United States and returned. The Kimmage Brigade made up of Irish emigrants from London. Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester was one of the first Volunteer units to enter the GPO.
- In 1918 the electorate was greatly expanded. In the election of December 1918, the vote was granted to almost all adult men and for the first time ever, to women, over 30 with some property restrictions. In Ireland, as yet undivided this almost tripled the electorate from 700,000 to over two million.
- In 1919 Edmund De Valera went to America to raise money for the War of Independence. Irish American emigrants responded by raising $5.5 million the equivalent of $55 million dollars in today’s money.
- In 1923, the Free State extended the vote to all women over 21 and the remaining property qualifications were also abolished.
- Emigrant remittances saved Ireland. Emigrants in the UK sent home £4.8 billion between 1940 and 1970. In the 1950’s remittances from emigrants continued to make up a staggering 3% of total national income in Ireland.
- In Northern Ireland the main area of contention was local government, especially in the west of Northern Ireland where, before gerrymandering nationalists, had controlled many of the local councils in 1920. After boundaries were redrawn, they controlled virtually none. This was most pronounced in the city of Derry, where a city with a 61% nationalist majority still elected a unionist majority on the city council. For these reasons, ‘One Man One Vote’ was one of the principle demands of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association touching off the Troubles.
Democracy Today in Ireland
- According to the most recent IDEA global democracy report ( January, 2021) a total of 125 states and territories allow people living abroad to participate in legislative elections, 88 allow participation in presidential elections and 73 countries and territories allow citizens overseas to participate in referendums. https://www.idea.int/our-work/what-we-do/global-state-democracy Ireland is not one of them
- There are currently over 612,000 Irish citizens and passport holders living in Northern Ireland according to the latest census who are denied the right to vote simply because they are on the wrong side of the Border. Assuming one–third are children that means about 400,000 Irish citizens of voting age. When Mary McAleese ran for the Presidency of Ireland for the first time in 1997 she and her husband Martin were not allowed to vote because they lived in Belfast. This is a classic case of voter discrimination as a result of geographical gerrymandering.
- Of the 14 EU Member States that hold direct Presidential elections, only Ireland, Slovakia and Cyprus deprive their overseas citizens of the vote.
- Ireland is the only EU Member State which does not allow their nationals living in another EU Member State to vote in European elections. This restriction is in direct violation of EU freedom of movement principle which allows citizens to vote in their home country.
- There and about 750,000 to 800,000 other citizens of voting age living around the world with a large concentration of Irish born citizens in Great Britain. These voters will likely reflect the current political spectrum and be more centre left given that many of were younger when they were forced to leave Ireland because of the Great Recession
- These passport holders will be the only people eligible to vote in future Presidential elections and represent a very small part of the much larger global Irish Diaspora of 70 million.
- There is a widely held assumption that Irish Americans might be able to vote in future Presidential elections. This is not true and factually incorrect. The vast majority of all Irish Americans are ineligible to vote in Irish elections because their forbearers came over immediately after the Famine. Joe Biden, for example, cannot vote in Irish elections since he is not a “citizen by descent.”
- To be a “citizen by descent” at least one grandparent must have been born in Ireland. Between the years 2008-2018 a total of 85,131 individuals in America became citizens by descent, a number that would include all the children of current Irish born citizens living in the United States.
- The 2013 Constitutional Convention recommended that all Irish citizens living outside the state including those living in Northern Ireland be allowed to vote in future Presidential elections.
- In 2015 the Manning Report on Seanad reform recommends that a majority (30) of the Panel be elected by popular vote on the principle of one person one vote and that the vote be “extended to include Irish citizens in Northern Ireland to holders of Irish passports overseas.”
- In 2018 the Citizens Assembly recommended that postal voting be expanded and by 77% support voting by otherwise eligible voters, who are resident outside the state, for no more than five years.