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“We need help. Send cash and shut up.”

10 Jan

There was an interesting debate over on the Telegraph’s Expat blog over whether Irish emigrants should be allowed to vote. I’d just like to highlight one of the comments, which I think was an important summary of one aspect of the issue.

Some of the discussion was over the level of help that Irish officials are seeking from the diaspora. I said this:

As for playing a role in the life of the nation, we are talking about our citizens here – according to our constitution, they ARE the nation. And they’re also the “unofficial ambassadors” lauded by President McAleese, and the “huge and willing resource” praised by the Taoiseach as he launched the Smart Economy strategy. If you read that strategy and most of the other strategies coming out of various government departments these days, you’ll realise that our emigrants and the diaspora are being asked to play a very big part in Ireland’s economic future. Their economic participation is welcome – in fact, the Irish government has been studying international models of economic engagement and has a goal of being the best in the world at this kind of diaspora engagement.

But political engagement is taboo, and Ireland is nearly alone in the EU on this – every other country in the EU (bar Greece, which lost a court case and will presumably be changing its policy) [allows their emigrants to vote]. The current situation is not balanced – Irish people living abroad should have some say in their own government.

Kevin Lyda summed it up much better than I did:

Current official Ireland attitude towards emigrants: we need help, send cash and shut up.

The suggested alternative: we need help, please participate fully in fixing our country.

One of those seems better…

If we’re serious about the diaspora being one of our greatest assets – and we should be – we need to focus on developing this relationship to its maximum potential. We need the collective wisdom of our entire global citizenry now: we’re only hurting ourselves by closing our emigrants out of political debate.

David McWilliams calls for voting rights for all Irish citizens

10 Jan

Economist and broadcaster David McWilliams has called for the extension of the right to vote to all Irish citizens abroad.

In an article entitled, “If I was Taoiseach. . . what I would do to save Ireland “, McWilliams outlines a series of 10 steps aimed at fixing the economy and healing society. His ninth step:

Extend the vote to everyone who is an Irish citizen no matter where they live. The Irish diaspora is one of our greatest assets and those of the tribe who are now living abroad should never be cut off from the nation. By allowing them to vote, we bring our policy into line with the rest of Europe and tie these people to home, making it more likely that they come back with their skills and experiences and contribute to the country.

McWilliams makes an important point here: one of the reasons why we should allow our emigrants to vote is that the vote serves as a vital link with home. We value the loyalty of our emigrants; allowing them a vote will reinforce that.

And we need all the help we can get: our message to our expats should be that we welcome their experience in the political realm as much as in the economic realm.

Irish Post calls for weekend election to facilitate recent emigrants

7 Jan

The London-based Irish Post has called for the upcoming general elections to be held on a weekend, to enable recent Irish emigrants to go home to vote.

The editorial first points out that there is no postal vote option for emigrants. Postal votes are reserved for the following:

  • Irish diplomats posted abroad
  • Members of the Garda Síochána
  • Full-time members of the Defence Forces,

and those who cannot get to a polling station because they

  • have a physical illness or disability
  • are studying full-time in Ireland away from home
  • are unable to vote at your polling station because of occupation
  • are unable to vote at your polling station due to imprisonment as a result of an order of a court.

As the Post says,

In other words, for practically all the newly-arrived emigrants from Ireland – tough luck.

These are desperate times for Ireland and our community must make it clear that all those forced to leave through the Government’s incompetence deserve a say in what happens next.

At the very minimum, the imminent General Election should be held at the weekend so that at least some of the newly arrived emigrants have a chance of returning home to vote.

My first thought was that this would be unsuitable anyway, since you need to be ordinarily resident to vote, but it is the case that you retain your resident status (and thus your vote) for 18 months if you have the intention to return to Ireland within that time. So a small number of emigrants would, in fact, be eligible to vote under such circumstances.

Read the article on the Irish Post website.

“Calls grow for election votes for Irish abroad”, says

7 Jan

The website picks up a Daily Mail article that appeared today. The Daily Mail article isn’t online, but the gives a good summary:

THE GOVERNMENT has faced fresh calls to allow Irish expatriates register to vote in the forthcoming general election, after it emerged that it shelved an official report recommending that Irish citizens be allowed to vote regardless of where they live.

Today’s Irish Daily Mail says that a report from the Oireachtas committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, commissioned in 2009 and which advocated that non-resident Irish citizens be given a vote in general elections, has been ‘mothballed’ by the state.

The article includes a few words from my quotes in the article:

Noreen Bowden of, which advocates voting rights for expatriates, said successive government hadn’t “seen it as a good thing to be able for people to be able to give their verdict on how the economy has been handled.”

Read the whole article on the website. “Voting rights for Irish emigrants”

6 Jan

Journalist Peter Geoghegan has a piece on emigrant voting rights on, and it’s well worth reading, both for the article itself and for the lively debate that ensued.

A segment:

But in truth Irish emigrants should be expecting more than just the right to vote in the Seaned. Ireland is the only country in the EU, and one of only 50 countries around the world, that does not allow citizens living abroad to vote. Unlike citizens of Ghana, Mexico, Dominican Republic and around 115 other countries, Irish people living outside the Republic of Ireland are barred from directly participating in the electoral process.

Noreen Bowden, editor of, believes that Irish emigrants’ have paid the price for their own generosity:

“Irish people aboard are very generous to Ireland in so many ways so there’s never been much of a need to go the extra mile to engage with them politically. Many countries have allowed emigrants to vote as a way to encourage them to contribute economically. Ireland has never needed to do that.”

Emigrant voting rights have, of course, been on the political agenda in Ireland for quite some time. Back in the 1990s there were serious proposals to elect representatives of the Diaspora to the Seanad, in much the same way that universities hold six seats in the second house. Unfortunately this suggestion came to nought following a split between advocates of immediate full voting rights for emigrants and those who saw the Seanad as a first step towards this broader goal.

More recently a mandate to prepare a proposal for extending the franchise at presidential elections to include the Irish abroad was included in the current coalition’s Programme for Government. Even this proposition, which falls far short of the full representation emigrants’ deserve, has gone nowhere. Indeed both John Gormley and Brian Cowen denied all knowledge of it when questioned on the subject in the Dail by their own colleague Michael Martin.

The suggestion of emigrant voting proved highly controversial, and the comments are also worth reading.

Read the whole article on “Irish Emigrant Voting Rights Petition”

3 Jan has launched a petition supporting emigrant voting rights.

It’s worth signing, and it’s also worth reading these thoughts from the site:


  • We are in a new era of mass emigration
  • Modern communication systems allow citizens abroad to keep up to date
  • Most emigrants currently leaving envisage returning to Ireland in the future
  • Recent EU research shows that young Irish have a higher than average interest in politics
  • Ireland is looking for new ways to engage with its diaspora
  • Irelands emigrants invariably refer to Ireland as home
  • We can either cherish the bond, or not!
  • A healthy diaspora relationship relies on both mutual benefit and mutual responsibility

The petition supports a simple principle:

“I believe in the principle of voting rights for Irish emigrants and I request that the Irish government identify and implement a fair system of voting rights for Irish citizens abroad.’

Read more and sign the petition at

Ireland has most restrictive expat voting rights in EU

21 Dec

Europeans Throughout the World has produced a handy chart of emigrant voting rights across the EU that I’ve been meaning to post for quite some time.

The whole chart is very much worth a look – I’ve just pulled out one section of the data below, the answer to the question of whether expats are allowed to vote at national elections, but the chart also covers such information as means of voting, eligibility to vote for MEPs, special advisory bodies and more. Ireland, of course, is the only country with all “No’s” across the board.

European Country – Vote at national elections?
DENMARK  – (YES) but with many restrictions
GERMANY  – YES – but only within countries of Council of Europe
GREECE – NO (subject to change following recent European Court of Human Rights decision)
UNITED KINGDOM – YES (Voting right is lost after 15 years abroad – this time limit is being challenged by a Spanish-based UK citizen.)

See the chart.

Visit the Europeans Throughout the World website.

Irish Post: “Votes for Emigrants”

20 Dec

The Irish Post has carried an article on Irish emigrant voting rights by Peter Geoghegan. In it, the UK-based journalist describes his assumption that he could come home to vote, and his subsequent disillusionment upon learning that this would be illegal.

He concludes:

Given the current political turmoil in Dublin a legally binding resolution permitting Irish men and women abroad to vote is highly unlikely before the next general election.

But the campaign to extend the franchise should not wait until there is a new administration installed in Government Buildings. I wonder how many people in Ireland are aware that emigrants are excluded from the democratic process? Surely it’s time to remind them of this sad fact.

Read the full article on poll shows majority favour emigrant voting rights

20 Dec

An online poll now going on at website is currently showing that about 60% of respondents favour emigrant voting rights, with only 38% saying those who leave should lose their vote.

The question asked is “Do you think Irish citizens living abroad should be able to vote in Irish national elections?”. As of now, with nearly 500 respondents, the results are:

  • 50% say, “Yes, without conditions”
  • 11% say, “In some circumstances, such as Seanad only”
  • 38% ticked, “No, they don’t live here anymore”

The poll was prompted by a mention of a Sunday Times article by Eleanor Fitzsimons entitled “Diaspora demand their say” on yesterday’s Marian Finucaine programme.

Visit for more.

Sunday Times: “Diaspora demand their say”

19 Dec

The Sunday Times carries an article on the emigrant voting rights issue, written by freelance journalist Eleanor Fitzsimons. Entitled “Diaspora demand their say”, the article mentions It begins:

Ireland will hold a general election early next year, and this has reignited a debate as to whether the country’s sizable diaspora should be allowed to vote in it.

According to the law, those not “ordinarily resident”, that is living in Ireland on 1 September in the year before the voting register comes into force, cannot cast a ballot in Irish elections.

Recent economic difficulties have led to the return of extensive emigration. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) reports that, in the period 2006-10, emigration reached a level that had not been seen since the late 1980s.

Read the entire article on the Sunday Times website (behind a paywall).

The article was discussed by academic and political reform advocate Elaine Byrne (who also gave a mention) on Marian Finucane’s Sunday news programme on RTE Radio 1.

Edited to add: The article has also been posted on