Irish Times columnist: votes for emigrants “an idea no one wants to crush”

29 Jan

Journalist Sarah Carey has advanced a particularly poor argument against emigrant voting rights in the Irish Times.

She sets up a straw man of worthy sentimentality as the reason behind the call for emigrant voting rights, then claims this:

I like too the guiding principle of “no taxation without representation”. It’s not reasonable that people who don’t pay taxes to the State should be allowed to have a say in how those taxes are collected and distributed. Those living in Ireland, no matter how poor, will pay tax, directly or indirectly.

One suspects she actually meant she believes in the “guiding principle” of “no representation without taxation” but was corrected in the editing process. Because she clearly doesn’t believe in the principle of “no taxation without representation”  – or she’d be advocating for a vote for emigrants on the basis that many of them are already paying taxes.

Carey adopts a remarkably snarky tone and seems to feel that any concern for our overseas citizens belongs to the realm of a 19th century novel. She uses words like “lament” and “tragic eloquence”, while noting that “votes for emigrants” is “an idea no one wants to crush because it sounds so worthy. Instead we politely indulge its advocates but do nothing about it.”

It’s not about tragic eloquence, of course, it’s about the rights of transnational citizens, and developing a relationship with our diaspora that is worthy of the 21st century. The traditional model, where we send off our young and wait for the remittances to roll in, isn’t going to work for much longer. Our well-educated and well-connected expats expect to keep their vote when they leave, and there have been many reports of European work colleagues expressing shock at realising there is no postal vote option for our overseas citizens. All this while our government actively seeks to network (or “harness” as the favoured phrase has it) our diaspora in order to benefit the Irish economy.

Anyway, there are pages of comments following her article, with the majority of them chiming in disagreement. There is actually so much wrong with this article and Carey’s reasoning that it would take far more time than it’s worth to deconstruct it. I’ve contributed on the comments, and I’ve also sent this letter off to the Times:


Regarding Sarah Carey’s article on emigrant voting rights (27 Jan), the notion that overseas citizens are unaffected by decisions at home is completely out of touch with the realities of transnational citizenship in the 21st century. Irish citizens abroad are potentially affected by decisions about social welfare, pensions, foreign policy, civil partnership and spousal immigration, taxation, broadcasting and consular protection. Your recent report on the thousands of returning emigrants denied benefits under the Habitual Residence Condition demonstrated that decisions made by Irish lawmakers can have devastating consequences on emigrants’ lives.

As for Ms Carey’s suggestion that emigrants should be taxed, this is a totally separate issue to voting – no developed nation in the world links the two the way she would suggest. In fact, the US is the only developed country in the world that taxes its expats on foreign-earned income – and I suspect that if Ireland were to do so we’d find we get less money than the value of what we’re currently getting from global Irish business networking, FDI, venture capital assistance, expats opening new markets, tourism, and philanthropic giving. Right now, we’ve got a highly loyal diaspora that’s worth a lot of cash to us. Adding a layer of paperwork and an attitude of even greater entitlement to our diaspora relations probably won’t serve any of us well.


Noreen Bowden

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