It is very important to exchange different points of view regarding Irish citizens and their right to vote in a Presidential election - whether they live in the Republic, in Northern Ireland or abroad. There are, of course, many opinions regarding this matter: should only Irish citizens living in the Republic be eligible to vote, or should outsiders be involved in the election as well?
The Constitutional Convention - established in 2012 to discuss proposed amendments to the Constitution of Ireland - recommended giving emigrants the right to vote in future Presidential elections. Its massive support has strengthened these discussions.
Undoubtedly, over the years, the Irish diaspora, with more than 70 million people claiming Irish heritage worldwide, has played a significant role in maintaining Irishness, as a nation - including culture, sports, literature and economic affairs.
In recent years the Irish Diaspora took an active role in helping to overcome the island’s economic crisis. The Global Irish Economic Forum, which first took place in 2009 (Farmleigh, Dublin, September 18-20), created a strong link to help the Irish government through the crisis.
During the second forum, which took place at Dublin Castle (October 7-8, 2011), there were discussions about the right of Irish citizens living abroad to vote, as it occurs in many other European nations as well as many countries worldwide. I introduced the point that members of the diaspora be represented in the Oireachtas – in the Dáil or in the Senea - as occurs in some other countries with strong links with its diaspora, such as Italy, France, and Portugal.
In July 15, 2014, Jimmy Deenihan, TD, was appointed as the first-ever Minister of State for the Diaspora. Since then, there have been more close ties with the Irish diaspora worldwide. Also, much engagement at governmental levels. A key recognition of these policies took place in 2016 when President Michael D. Higgins honored the Galway born Billy Lawless, who was based in Chicago, USA, as the first overseas Senator representing the Diaspora.
So, going to the point of voting rights, first may I clarify different aspects of Irish emigration in recent decades. In the old days (1800 to 1973), emigrants who left the island did not have it in mind to return. This was mainly a pattern for those who settled in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia or Argentina, among other destinations. They kept ties with their home but they and their descendants became citizens in their adopted countries, granted political rights and voted in local elections.
It is different is the case of the new emigrants. Indeed, they are young and skilled Irish people who have emigrated but with the idea of returning home after some years, and they are updated on what is happening in Ireland despite being very far away from their homeland.
It is on this point that I truly agree and support the idea of Irish born people living abroad to have the right to vote in Presidential elections. In addition, when I speak of Irish people, I am referring to those born in the entire island, as we should look for a United Ireland in the near future.
In a different condition are the many Irish citizens abroad, not by birth but by descent, and I am not in a strong position to declare that they have the right to vote in a Presidential election.
Nevertheless, these people, as well as the Irish born people living abroad and the many Irish descendants who cannot obtain their Irish citizenship – because of the restrictions of the Irish law, which is not as open as that of many countries - should be entitled the right of vote to some sort of parliamentarian representation.
It seems that the Senead Éireann could be the place where some senators could represent the overseas Irish people, from different regions, such as the UK, the continent, North & South America, Australia & New Zealand, and others (Africa, Asia).
In Argentina, the largest Irish emigration in a non-English speaking country, and the 5th destination of the massive emigration, where more than 500,000 people can claim their proud heritage, we are more interested in voting for a parliamentarian representation than in voting for the Irish President, notwithstanding strongly supporting the idea of the voting rights for an Irish President.
Locally, we have some Irish citizens, mostly Irish born, who would like to vote in any presidential election; so, another question should be if they could vote by postal mail or at the Consulate the day of the election.
It is important that these discussions take place, in a very democratic form, and we look forward that in the near future, after a successful poll, this right had been granted to any Irish citizen living abroad.
The author is an economist and historian, sixth Irish generation living in Argentina. He is also the editor of The Southern Cross newspaper, founded in 1875, the dean of the Irish diaspora publications.