David Farrell (September 22 2010)
With so many of our citizens fleeing the country — many of them against their will — and so many of them ending up disenfranchised residents in foreign lands, why should we add insult to injury be denying them a say over affairs at home?
The scourge of mass emigration — that age old pressure valve so beloved of Irish policy-makers — has returned. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in the period from 2006-10 emigration mushroomed by a massive 81%; bringing net outward migration from Ireland to its highest level since the late 1980s. The report found that Irish people accounted for 42% of those emigrating and that 27,700 Irish emigrated during the first four months of this year, with an estimated 5,000 Irish people emigrating each month.
This brings into sharp relief just how much Ireland is out of step with the majority of the world’s democracies, the bulk of which give voting rights to their citizens living overseas. A recent report by the prestigious non-government agency, International IDEA, reports on the international trends, showing how a total of 115 countries, to varying degrees, provide their citizens with voting rights in national elections. The regional breakdowns are as follows:
The usual arguments made against votes for emigrants include:
- the usual ‘no representation without taxation';
- the risk of crazy voting trends from ‘greener than green’ emigrant groupings;
- the administrative difficulty of arranging this because of our constituency-based STV system;
- why spend precious resources when state finances are tight?
Here are some responses as an opener to possible debate. For instance, it would be easy enough to set a time limit (e.g. 15 years) on how long an Irish citizen could retain voting rights. Given that other countries can and do provide this facility, then surely we can too; indeed, it might be argued that we have a moral duty to consider it….