Ireland has a constitutional convention slated for 2012. It is one of the biggest political stories in Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. However, Fianna Gael and Labour are being a little coy about the precise date, getting an answer from them is like getting Bertie Ahern to explain all the sterling in his bank account.
One of the reasons for delay is the agenda. Some groups want to include a review of Irish citizen voting rights, but the FG/Labour coalition are trying to dampen expectations by narrowing the parameters of discussion. At the moment two large groups in the Irish Nation find themselves disenfranchised while others who are not born in Ireland are permitted the vote. The two main disenfranchised groups are:
Aricle 2 of Bunreacht Na hEireann (Irish Constitution) defines the Irish Nation as the following: “It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation”
Bunreacht Na hEireann makes no mention what-so-ever about restrictions on citizens being able to vote. To the contrary, in Article 40 (section 1) our constitution states the opposite: “All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.” and goes on to state in Article 40 (section 3) “The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.”
Given the current disagreeable situation where emigrants have no voice, it is obvious successive Fianna Fail and Fianna Gael governments had not felt it necessary to “defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen“, or ensure they at least “be held equal before the law.” Are successive Irish governments seriously trying to tell us that it is not “practicable” to set up voting by proxy or a postal vote. I would argue by not facilitating voting rights for Irish citizens the Dail in acting unconstitutionally.
Bunreacht Na hEireann defines an Irish citizen in this way: “the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland.” The phrase “in accordance with the law” is important, because according to Irish Law recent emigrants do not lose their citizenship when they depart to find work on foreign shores. But the Oireachtas sees fit to take away their voice (their vote). Equally, Irish citizens in the North are defined as being Irish under Irish law, this is also enshrined and accepted by the British in the recent Belfast Agreement and subsequently recognized internationally.
So why are these Irish citizens being denied full suffrage? In Ireland it has been argued in some quarters that these two groups should be denied their right to vote because they do not pay taxes to the State. Does this mean the unemployed, among others, who do not pay taxes can now also be denied the right to vote? Nowhere in Bunreacht Na hEireann is citizenship, full suffrage and taxation linked.
During the recent Presidential elections, then candidate, and now President Higgins argued in favor of addressing the issue in a progressive manner. The upcoming Constitutional convention is the place to bring forward this change. The right to vote belongs to the Irish people; it is not within the remit of the Dail to give it or take it away, it is a birthright.
The Dail want the diaspora to help Ireland recover from it’s economic difficulties and most of the diaspora are only too willing to help. But the Oireachtas must respect it’s citizens both abroad and in the North, and voting rights is the only way to show that mutual respect.
Ireland is the only country in the EU that does not allow citizens living abroad to vote. And with all due respect to President Higgins in the article above, Irish emigrants should be expecting more than just the right to vote in the Seanad.
Irish electoral law is so corrupted that as and an Irish citizen I cannot vote, yet my English bank manager has a mail in vote for Seanad elections based simply on the fact that he is a Trinity graduate. Such shameful tactics of social, elitist and political gerrymandering should have no place in modern Ireland. We have the equally erroneous situation where we had a Northern born President in Mary McAleese, yet Northerners are denied the right to vote for the person who will represent our Nation both at home and abroad. The recent Presidential elections also highlighted the situation where Derry man Martin McGuinness can run for President, yet is denied his right to vote in that very same election. Remember, the President of Ireland represents the Irish Nation, not just the people in 26 counties of our nation, and the Irish Constitution clearly states “It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation”
We should be looking to the Constitutional Convention to bring Irish law into the 21st century. Let the voice of the Diaspora be heard – they are our children.
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