Archive | October, 2010

What issues affect emigrants?

22 Oct

Emigrants are affected by government policies: the most obvious example is the case of the reluctant emigrant who wants to come home, and will only be able to do so if the economy improves. Why should that person have no voice to determine his or her own future?

Also look at the Habitual Residence Condition – many emigrants have been adversely affected by this when they move home, even though the government had specifically stated that emigrants would not be affected by this when it was introduced back in 2005. This was a broken promise and those most affected by it – people who would like to come home but might need the carer’s allowance, for example – have no say.

Broadcasting policy is another example – the government promised that it would start transmitting television to Irish emigrants in the UK by St Patrick’s Day 2009, after years of requests from the Irish community there. This has not happened, and those affected have no voice. RTE also shut down its medium wave radio service in 2008, which adversely affected many elderly Irish in the UK – again, there was no effective means of protest.

Even on taxation, there are Irish people living abroad who are paying the non-primary residence tax on their homes in Ireland – some of these people would be on small incomes and have inherited the family home, so it’s not insignificant. Paying this tax doesn’t buy them any right to representation.

Those are just a few examples, but non-resident citizens are also affected by issues such as diaspora funding, pensions, foreign policy.

Isn’t it “representation without taxation”?

22 Oct

Some people like to say that allowing emigrants the right to vote would be “representation without taxation” – as if “no representation without taxation” were some well-established democratic principle.

It’s not. The US is the only developed country in the world that taxes its non-resident citizens on income earned abroad – and yet the US is only one of well over 100 countries around the world that allows its expats to vote. Even in the US, there’s no actual connection between paying taxes and being allowed to vote: the requirement is that you file taxes, and you don’t actually pay any taxes to the US until your income is nearly $100,000. So it’s probably a safe assumption that most US expats don’t actually owe any taxes to the US – yet all US citizens  are entitled to vote.

The confusion, of course, arises from the fact that the “No representation without taxation” sounds like “No taxation without representation” – a genuine rallying cry for democracy arising out of the American Revolution. “No representation without taxation” is the opposite – it’s a call to restrict democracy; a demand for a return to pre-Enlightenment era when only men of property could vote. We don’t demand the exchange of taxation for voting rights in any other context: the penniless are as entitled to vote in Ireland as the wealthy, and we don’t exclude net beneficiaries of taxation from voting.

Who else uses the slogan? It’s in common parlance among libertarians in the US and the UK who urge the disenfranchisement of anyone who gets their living from the public purse: politicians, public servants and welfare recipients. This is not good company for anyone who believes in democracy.

Which Irish citizens can vote from abroad?

22 Oct

There are a small number of Irish citizens who can vote from abroad. Those with the privilege are limited to the following:

  • Members of the armed forces and the diplomatic services are able to vote in Dail elections
  • NUI and Trinity graduates can vote in the Seanad
  • Those temporarily away from home for fewer than 18 months can also register to vote, at their home address in Ireland.

Contrary to what some people think, it’s not legal to come home to vote if you are an emigrant living abroad who intends to be away for longer than 18 months. In fact, such an act is punishable by two years in jail.


Does the Constitution support the disenfranchisement of Irish citizens?

22 Oct

It doesn’t seem like it. Article 2 clearly defines the Irish Nation as including all those born on the island of Ireland, or otherwise entitled to citizenship. Article 1 asserts a number of “inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign” rights for the Irish nation. How can the government justify the disenfranchisement of the fifth of the Irish nation that lives abroad?

Article 1



The Irish nation hereby affirms its inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of Government, to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.

Article 2

It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.

What do you think?

Emigrant voting is a democratic norm

22 Oct

Here in Ireland, we tend to think that emigrant voting is some kind of fringe thing that only a few countries do. Some people point to the US, for example, and suggest that expat voting is tolerated there because of the requirement that US citizens must file taxes. Or they’ll say that French people abroad can vote, because the French are somehow radical in their democratic tendencies.

Well, in reality, emigrant voting is a global democratic norm. Nearly every developed nation allows it, and plenty of developing ones do, too. What countries allow it?

  • Almost other EU country (Greece was the last holdout, but that’s changing now that they’ve lost a case in the European Court of Human Rights.)
  • All the major destination countries of our diaspora
  • High-emigration level countries
  • More than 115 countries in all.