Votes for emigrants?

David Farrell (July 29, 2010)

A letter in today’s Irish Times makes the case for votes for emigrants:

Madam, – As it is now agreed 1, that political and administrative corruption rots (our) society from the inside; 2, that root and branch reform is needed and 3, that we should look to the Irish diaspora (viz Farmleigh) for help with our problems I suggest the following: Take our courage in our hands and follow the example of Australia, the USA and Britain et al and extend the voting franchise to our emigrants.
They have been so far denied this right precisely because their vote can certainly not be bought and must effect a sea change in our cosy, nepotistic, self-interested and failed political system. – Yours, etc,

The correspondent in correct in noting that other countries grant overseas voting rights. As reported in the newspapers only a few days ago, Ireland is once again top of the class in the EU for the numbers of people emigrating in search of work, many of these Irish citizens. Should we add insult to injury in denying them a voice?

10 thoughts on “Votes for emigrants?

  1. Before this present diaspora , many others left for
    varieties of reasons , indeed a friend of mine said
    that denying the Irish diaspora a vote was clearly
    a form of manipulation by the then Govt because
    he (and others) could see the crash coming from afar.

    leaving Ireland gives a perspective on how conservative
    and ‘tight’ the political system actually is and how
    closely knit government is with both print and broadcast

    He also saw Ireland as anti-enterprise, anti-ideas
    and running on tired old hacks ‘n tracks.

    = I guess he was right !!

  2. I know this is unfashionable to say, but why should people who are not affected by the decisions of Irish politicians have a say in electing them? I pay taxes. If emigrants are willing to pay a franchise tax, then fair enough. But no representation without taxation.

    • Emigrants are affected by decisions taken by politicans because emigrants are emigrants because of those bad decisions and have parents and siblings who remain in Ireland and in some cases who are financially supported by those emigrants.

      The real fear of course is that emigrants see how things can be done differently and are done differently in other countries and will be unlikely to vote for the two main parties and thereby their combined vote bloc might upset the apple cart and emigration has always been viewed in Ireland as a way to avoid reform – if those who emigrated stayed in Ireland the pressure against the establishment would be unbearable, but when so many leave that pressure is cut off so nothing changes and the cronyism embeds itself even further because you can be sure those who do stay in Ireland won’t do a tap to change things or bring about reform.

    • Late coming to this but I have to reply —

      It’s already been said that emigrants are affected by the decisions of those electing them – many of these emigrants who are leaving today believe they will be returning in a few years. Surely they should be entitled to vote for economic policies that might allow them to do so.

      The concept of “no representation without taxation” is wholly undemocratic. “No taxation without representation” was the American Revolution’s rallying cry for democracy. “No representation with taxation” is an absurd perversion of that. In the US, for example, where the original phrase developed, poll taxes were established as undemocratic and unconstitutional half a century ago. Can you point to anywhere in the world that emigrants pay such a tax in order to vote? (And the US isn’t one of them – it’s the only developed nation in the world that taxes its expats, but it’s a completely separate issue from voting, and you can vote whether or not you’re paying your taxes.)

      “No representation without taxation” is used internationally as a rally cry for those who would disenfranchise net beneficiaries of taxation (like welfare recipients, public servants and politicians). A great democratic principle indeed.

      Well over 100 countries alllow for emigrant voting rights, and the number is rising all the time – India is among the latest to announce it plans to let its emigrants vote.

      In any case, it’s a little embarrassing that we so openly and eagerly ask our emigrants and the wider diaspora to help us out economically when we won’t give our emigrants the same kind of voice that nearly every other developed nation in the world does. Why should our emigrants be expected to continue to act on our behalf when we give them no say?

  3. It’s a really difficult question – i think that one problem is that emigrants would make up a rather large protion of the electorate. Another is that this proportion would not be a random selection of the population – rather, I would be willing to bet that they are significantly less likely to vote for the government parties.

    In terms of the moral argument that Jason makes – it is an interesting question, it goes to the heart of democratic theory, in fact. The real question is: when is it ‘democractic’ to exclude certain categories of people from decision-making? If we view Irish citizenship as an innate right, regardless of personal circumstances or location – then it is obviously undemocratic to exclude non-residents. If we view the right to vote as being conditional on one’s being bound to accept the outcome (pay taxes, obey laws etc.) then there is arguably justification in excluding non-resident citizens.

  4. Voting is a collective act to decide who should take decisions on behalf of a group of people. I think it’d make more sense to give immigrants resident here the vote after a certain period of time than those who wouldn’t be bound by the outcome.

    Even aside from that, the longer people are away from home, the less contact they’ll have with the realities of the political situation, and their political views would be formed by memories. New parties would find it difficult to gain votes from emigrants, and those who are mobilized enough can tend towards more extreme viewpoints, such as was seen in the support from America for the IRA in past decades.

  5. I think I understand what’s motivating this letter to the IT but it strikes me as “Please, please, won’t someone, somewhere save us from ourselves?”. The Irish people have the ultimate authority to decide what kind of society and economy they want – they and no one else. And even if it were possible to develop sensible arrangements to allow Irish nationals resident overseas to vote in Ireland, I’m not sure how transformative the impact would be.

  6. It is likely that far more people become emigrants because of circumstances beyond their control than set out for distant shores as part of a long-planned career option. If someone born here, and who had been registered to vote, found it necessary to emigrate because of economic events they should not lose their right to participate in this country’s political process. Anyone is such circumstances should be able to register at an Irish embassy or consulate in the country to which they emigrated. The registration form could include a question concerning whether they planned (hoped ?) to return to Ireland on a permanent basis within a set time period (perhaps 5 years). Emigrants who expected to reside outside Ireland on a permanent basis could be excluded from voting. The internet allows for world-wide contact. Ireland’s present political parties, and any new ones, could remain in touch with interested emigrants through the establishment of informative web sites. People who emigrate from Ireland do not automatically lose interest in what happens here, anymore than they would lose interest in family members who remained in Ireland.

    • ” emigrate because of economic events they should not lose their right to participate in this country’s political process. Anyone is such circumstances should be able to register at an Irish embassy or consulate in the country to which they emigrated. The registration form could include a question concerning whether they planned (hoped ?) to return to Ireland on a permanent basis within a set time period (perhaps 5 years).”

      I agree with the above statement, afterall
      many emigrants leave behind family, loved ones even their kids- why shld they not have a say like other countries who afford
      emigrant voting rights ?

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