October 24, 2007

Polish election system for ex-pats gets my vote

Posted in Ireland · 59 comments ·

Last Sunday afternoon, a white van advertising a painting and decorating firm called the ‘Emerald and the Eagle’ pulled up in Ailesbury Road.

There’s nothing unusual about this. Given our obsession with extending our kitchens to the size of airport hangers, many of the nation’s less salubrious roads have foreign tradesmen coming and going. Nor is it that strange that the company would be called the ‘Emerald and the Eagle’ — the Emerald representing Ireland and the Eagle being the official crest of Poland. What is interesting is that these lads were coming to vote.

The Polish government set up three Irish voting stations — in Dublin, Cork and Limerick — to extend Polish democracy to some 25,000 Polish ex-pats who the Polish state believe are as entitled to vote as those Poles living in Poland. As far as the Polish government is concerned, Polish citizenship is the guarantor of a democratic voice. The same goes for French, Germans and practically all EU citizens.

In America, the overseas vote is a crucial bell weather in presidential elections. The American idea of the global US citizen, dovetails with its view of taxation. Americans, no matter where they live, are taxed on what is called their “worldwide” income. This means if you are an American citizen and wish to exercise your right to vote and have a say in the running of America, you must pay tax. (This is not to say there are not very well-organised tax avoidance schemes for the rich and famous.) However, the principle goes back to the revolutionary slogan of “no taxation without representation”.

The root of the American Revolution was that the colonists believed they were being taxed unfairly without having the right to send representatives to the parliament in London. The famous Boston Tea Party was the culmination of the campaign to avoid taxes being paid in the US to finance the British crown. It was the spark which ignited the Revolution. If American democracy was founded on the principal of “no taxation without representation”, it is sustained on the basis of “no representation without taxation”.

Now, let’s look at Ireland. The immigrants who live here and pay taxes are not allowed to vote in the general election, but the Irish emigrants who live abroad are not allowed to vote either. So, we have neither the Polish system nor the American system. Why is this? We don’t allow the half a million foreign immigrants who live here and contribute to our economy to vote, despite their tax input to us. We let them vote in local and European elections, but in the Dail election — where the real power is — they are barred.

But even this second-rate suffrage is better than what our own citizens living abroad are afforded. We don’t allow the one million Irish citizens who live outside the country to vote here, despite their citizenship.

The latter can be explained by the fact that if Polish people here want to vote they can become citizens of Ireland, if they want to go through the process. However, the treatment of our own Irish citizens goes against all the norms in the rest of Europe. Bizarre as it must sound to an outsider, the Irish, the country with the longest tradition of emigration in Europe, bans its own people from having a say in the affairs of the country. This is an extraordinarily narrow view of the State and its relationship with the Irish people. Why don’t we follow the Polish model, or French or German?

We claim to be a globalised country. We are always hearing guff about how Ireland is the one of the most globalised countries in the world. Yet, we don’t even recognise the legitimate voice of Irish citizens who live in this new globalised world. Why is this?

Maybe the reason is our political class do not want people rocking the boat, particularly people who are not beholden to them. A nice little cosy system has been constructed where favours, strokes and backhanders are the currency of political power. Any opening up of this clique would devalue the currency and undermine the power base that preserves the status quo.

The Irish emigrants, who in any other country would be entitled to vote, might disrupt things. They would have little or no local loyalty. They might even vote on long-term issues. They might, God forbid, bring new ideas to bear on the election — ideas that they picked up abroad which our political elite could not vet. They would be maverick and maybe uncontrollable. The Irish abroad might not tolerate the state of the country and might have something to say about the failures of the Irish state in areas which they can compare with the facilities in the countries they have emigrated to.

Maybe an Irish medical worker — one of the many thousands of whom have left this country over the years — might have something to say about the health system. Likewise, citizens abroad who have learnt best practice in transport, law and order or the construction sector may dissent from the present status quo.

Is this what we are afraid of? Is the reason we prevent one million Irish who live abroad from voting because the political system believes that it would be disruptive? If Poland, a country 70 places below us on the world rich list, can organise polling booths for its people all around the world, why can’t we? If we really want to embrace the world, we first have to embrace our own citizens around the world. If the way forward is to “think globally, act locally” then giving Irish emigrants who live abroad the vote immediately is the best way to start.

These citizens think globally because they live out there, coming into contact with other people, other systems and other ways of doing things. We could, with their help, act locally, by melding their views with ours. This is clearly what the Polish government is thinking.

As Ireland moves into a different economic phase with growth slowing, house prices falling and tax revenues ebbing away, we need to tap the brains of all our citizens to ensure that this State does the right thing. It must gall people to think that our immigrants, supposedly coming here from countries that are less developed, can exercise their democratic rights and have a say in the affairs of the homeland. Yet Ireland, the country that defined itself by emigration up until recently, gives its exiles the cold shoulder.

  1. Kevin

    Well said David. It seems crazy that as members of the EU, we are entitled to free movement within the union to work, but only if we drop our right to vote at home. We are discriminating against our own citizens based on which member state they reside in!

  2. marie

    I do not think we should allow non Irish people to vote in general elections. The migrants would vote for the party that would give them the best deal or benefits and the Irish would have to pay for it. Certain politcal parties would buy the non Irish vote with our taxes. The political party that let the most non nationals, asylum seekers in and then gave them the best deal and benefits is the party that the non Irish would vote for. The non Irish would be granted excellent access to Irish jobs and the Irish would have to compete with them for jobs. The non Irish even if they did not speak English would be granted social welfare benefits, children’s allowance despite the fact that nowhere else in Europe would spend state money in such a fashion.

    The migrants do not pay as much taxes as the Irish as they did not buy houses in this country so did not have to pay all the VAT, stamp duy and other huge taxes that make up the cost of a house. The Irish have been buying houses for years and have paid a lot of tax e.g stamp duty, VAT etc.

    In Northern Ireland, the Nationalists could find themselves just another ethnic minority. Would the new residents want to join a united Ireland?

    The younger Irish who have bought houses in the last few years are feeling the pinch now. Interest rates are rising. Their jobs are less secure as in the private sector they have to compete with an influx of migrants competing for their jobs. They are concerned with a political system seems to be so closely linked to the people that sold them the houses, now that it seems those houses are no longer rising in value. They may think twice about voting Fianna Fail in the future. These votes may have to be got from other people if Fianna Fail is to stay winning elections. It would suit some parties to give the vote to the Non Irish.

  3. Kevin

    Marie, I think you are missing David’s point. He is not suggesting that we allow non-Irish citizens to vote. He is suggesting that we allow all Irish citizens to vote. Currently, if you are an Irish citizen living in France (or any other country besides Ireland), you immediately lose your right to vote.

  4. Aidan

    I am glad that you have highlighted this point. It is very annoying for me as an Irish person living in Holland that I can vote in neither Irish nor Dutch elections. Irish political parties know full well that emigrants would have a very important say in general elections if they could vote so they naturally do not want to change things. The constituency model is not appropriate for this kind of voting. As a compromise they could set up an international consituency where emigrants could vote for parties (not candidates) and the seats would be allocated to candidates on the party list. The advantage of this would be that people would be voting for a party’s policies, they would not have to know the individual candidates. This is the way most candidates are elected to the Dutch parliament and also explains why Dutch politicians do not have to resort to parish pump politics. My Polish wife and my French sister-in-law both had the right to vote in recent elections despite living in Holland.
    Marie’s points above smack of xenophobia. If non-Irish people could vote I am pretty sure that they could see through anybody buying their votes. There is a strong chance that a Polish People’s Party would be formed and that this ethnic party would become a potential coalition party. There is nothing wrong with that, the Swedish Speakers’ Party in Finland has helped form many coalition governments. If somebody pays taxes and lives in a country for say three years then they should have the right to vote. I cannot vote in Dutch elections without renouncing my Irish nationality while a Dutch person living in Spain can vote, that is ridiculous.
    One point David didn’t mention is that UK subjects can vote in Irish elections and Irish citizens in UK elections. Irish people have traditionally voted for the British Labour Party. There has never been a campaign in England to disenfranchise the Irish.
    Marie – do you think UK subjects should be allowed to vote in Irish elections as is now the case?

  5. DD

    Marie, I think you need to read what you have said here and perhaps think again, seriously. Answer this question. If you decided to go and live in another country, and eventually settle there, do you not think that you should ultimately have a say in your new homeland? And if your answer is ‘No’, then what you are really saying is that the millions of Irish people living around the world should have no rights or say in their now adopted homes. Correct? There are many that would say your opinion in itself is Nationalistic.

    The non Irish are granted the same access to Irish jobs. They don’t get preferential treatment and the bottom line is thateveryone has to compete for jobs. That’s life to be brutally honest. Again, do you think that all the Irish living in the UK, USA, or Australia, for example, should be forced to the back of the job queue? Because if you do, then you are truly not thinking straight.

    As far as Social Welfare, Unemployment, Housing, Child Benefits, etc, I’m not sure, but I think you’ll also find that the rules across the EU are the same for nationals and non-nationals alike regardless of what country somebody originates from within the EU. The rules only change for non EU nationals.

    “The migrants do not pay as much taxes as the Irish as they did not buy houses in this country so did not have to pay all the VAT, stamp duy and other huge taxes that make up the cost of a house. The Irish have been buying houses for years and have paid a lot of tax e.g stamp duty, VAT etc.”

    Marie, what planet are you living on exactly? Are you really so deluded as to think that non-nationals, or ‘migrants’ as you say, don’t, or haven’t bought homes or property here in Ireland? Come on, wake up and smell the Irish coffee! While I may not have the figures to hand, the fact is there are thousands of non-Irish national home owners here. But then there are millions of Irish property owners around the world. To hint that Irish nationals residing in Ireland pay more taxes, or rather that non-Irish nationals pay less taxes is more than a little narrow minded to be honest.

    “The younger Irish who have bought houses in the last few years are feeling the pinch now. Interest rates are rising. Their jobs are less secure as in the private sector they have to compete with an influx of migrants competing for their jobs.”

    Marie, this increase in immigration also happened in England in the post-war years, specifically between the Fifties and Sixties with in the influx of Indian and West-Indian migrants. It’s a fact of life that the world is changing. However, I do appreciate that this diaspora is a somewhat more recent phenomenon here from the point of view of a growing multi-cultural Ireland. As for your comments about home owners “feeling the pinch” with interest rates on the increase and concerns about job security, it’s a problem we all have and yes, it’s very worrying. But it’s not because of immigration, it’s down to global economics, politics and (as far as the grossly over-inflated property market) greed, amond other factors that I’m not qualified to speak of, nor wish to get dragged into as this site is already full of clearly defined views on the current state of economics and the Irish property market.

    What worries me about the kind of comments made, and I don’t mean to play Devil’s Advocate here, but I have to ask a general question, is there an underlying feeling in existence in Ireland which may be more akin with an increase in Zenophobia than Nationalism?

  6. Keith

    I would agree wholeheartedly David, speaking as someone who has been in the US for the last four years while at graduate school it relay pissed me off that I was not able to vote in the last general election. I emailed late night live on news talk just before the election when they were having a discussion about getting young people out to vote and mentioned the point that a lot of people in there twenties spend time abroad either studying or to traveling and that these thousands of young Irish were being denied the right to vote if they happened to be away during an election. I can remember the members of the panel but I remember one of the politician’s giving a very watery answer along the lines that it was too difficult and there was the potential for fraud, what a load of BS, the US can do it, France can do it, why not us.

  7. I’ll go against the grain here. David used the motto ““no representation without taxation“. Exactly. So since Irish citizens abroad are not paying tax in Ireland they don’t deserve representation here. David lauds the possibility that they might be maverick – exactly, since they won’t have to live under any system they vote for. They are 1 million – that’s 25% more than the resident population. Think of how they might distort our politics, for example by getting ‘maverick’ over the northern issue. Yet if bullets began to fly again these mavericks would be thousands of miles away.

    The other point – that Irish workers abroad might have learnt best practices is equally spurious. Thousands and thousands of our workforce have already worked abroad. Besides, our services here are wretched not because we haven’t seen better, but because our vested interests combined with a spineless political class have no impetus for change.

    That the Irish abroad deserve voting rights where they reside is without question.

    Regarding our own immigrants, our process for citizenship here is lamentably slow and painful. It should be streamlined and fair to allow our immigrants their entitlement to vote.

    In short, let people vote where they live, not where they dream.

  8. Aidan


    Your point is fair but you need to define a point at which a person would lose their vote in their homeland and gain a vote where they live. Many people live abroad for two or three years and have not integrated in their host country. These people should still be allowed to vote in Ireland since they are planning on going back in many cases. I don’t think you should be allowed to vote in both your home and your host country, you should be able to choose.

    In my case I really want to vote in Dutch elections because I live here. I would not vote in Irish elections even if I could because I don’t know the people in the Clare constituency that I would probably have to vote in. Other people have closer links to Ireland, they should be allowed to vote at home.

  9. Noreen

    Tomtaltach, David used the “no representation without taxation” specifically in reference to the American system, not as the gold standard for external voting systems. In fact, most developed countries offer voting rights to emigrants, while only a small handful require their citizens to pay taxes. (The US, Eritrea, and North Korea are the only ones I’m aware of.)

    And most Americans who live abroad, in fact, do not pay taxes – you only pay taxes if you make above something like 80,000 dollars a year, although you are legally required to file the paperwork no matter what your salary.

    Your assertion, “That the Irish abroad deserve voting rights where they reside is without question”, simply isn’t rooted in fact. Most other nations don’t see it that way, and those nations have the right to establish their own voting privileges – in most countries, you have to live there for a number of years before you are eligible for citizenship, and hence voting privileges (since most nations link the two).

    Your statement that people should vote where they live, not where they dream, is a nice piece of rhetoric, but many emigrants can’t vote where they live – and the lack of external voting mechanisms also affects people who are living abroad only temporarily, such as students, and who will have to live with the results.

    Almost every other developed nation in the world allows their citizens abroad to vote – even those with very high emigrant populations. A few countries place time limits on this right, a few require an intent to return, and a small number require emigrants to return home to vote. It’s strange that here in Ireland we are unwilling to consider any compromise in the matter.

  10. Aidan,
    I agree that a cut-off point would be necessary. This kind of arrangement already exists in many dual-taxation treaties. For example, there is a dual-taxation agreement between France and Ireland. After a certain period in France – I think 6 months – an Irish person is supposed to start paying their taxes there. Something like this could be put in place for voting.

  11. marie

    I lived abroad for years and am from Ennis. In response to your comments, I beg to differ with you. I am not saying that all Irish in USA or Australia should be forced to the back of the job queue.I am saying that in many countries e.g. the USA there are quotas that decide how many people should be let in. I think that the numbers allowed to come in should be controlled. Currently, hundreds of millions of people can come here and apply for jobs. This could create a downward pressure on wages.

    No country in the EU other than Ireland gives non citizens unrestrained access to its social welfare. In the UK, economic migrants have to have worked in the country for three years before they can apply for benefits. Germany, France and the rest of Western Europe have sought to deny access to social welfare for non citizens. Ireland is the only country in the EU to allow EU economic migrants unrestrained access to social welfare.No, it is factually incorrect to say that large numbers of non Irish have bought houses here.

    The Irish who live abroad if they were allowed to vote, might shake things up. The one million Irish who live outside Ireland might not beholden to the government.

  12. Noreen

    Marie, EU economic migrants do not have unrestrained access to social welfare. You are forgetting about the Habitual Residency Condition, which requires two years of residency in the Common Travel Area before you can apply for any benefits.

    Also, I don’t understand why you are linking home-ownership with voting rights. That implies that the wealthy should have greater rights, and that doesn’t really fly in a democracy.

  13. Noreen,
    Your point that emigrants simply can’t vote where they live is well taken. And I accept the argument about temporary emigrants such as students. For sure I agree there should be a time limit.

    You argued that my assertion “That the Irish abroad deserve voting rights where they reside is without question” isn’t rooted in fact. Nor can it be. It is not intended as a fact, merely an opinion. I believe that it is right that legal immigrants anywhere should, after a certain period of time (yes, to be agreed and defined), be allowed fair, straight-forward path to citizenship. In that way they secure their voting rights. In my opinion this period ought to be relatively short – perhaps as short as two years. In practice of course, we are talking about other countries over which we have no control – and some might never concede citizenship nor voting rights.

    As I said, the only concession I’m prepared to make on this is that Irish emigrants be allowed to vote for a limited period of time after leaving.

    There is one piece of information, which I don’t have to hand, which could change my opinion. If I could be shown that most Irish emigrants return here, then fine. However, if however, the figures were to show that the bulk of people who leave Ireland make their destiny in their adoptive home, then I am committed to not letting them vote. As in all human endeavour, we make mistakes and we have to live with them. But I want us to live with our own mistakes, not those of others.

  14. Marie,
    Your reasoning is highly suspect. You said “The migrants would vote for the party that would give them the best deal or benefits and the Irish would have to pay for it“. The vast bulk of our legal immigrants are here to work and contribute. The recent report from the CSO shows that a higher percentage of our immigrants have a degree or higher than have Irish citizens. These are not spongers. In many cases they work harder and for less than the Irish – which is in itself a regrettable part of the emigration phenomenon and we should do all we can to minimise it.

    Furthermore you said “The migrants do not pay as much taxes as the Irish as they did not buy houses in this country so did not have to pay all the VAT, stamp duty …“. Following this line of reasoning, your representation should be a simple function of how much tax you pay. That’s a variation on the old injustice that you got a number of votes in proportion to the amount of property you own. It was wrong then, it is wrong now. If you are in, you are in, and you should be accorded rights like everyone else as quickly as possible.

    We cannot and should not have it both ways – please come here to work, but don’t ask for equality of treatment or any say in how we run our affairs. It’s plain wrong.

  15. ITman

    Apart from tomaltach, no one else here seems to realise the big problem with giving voting rights to irish citizens abroad..Irelands population and moreover our voting population is too small in proportion to the million or more abroad. So enough talk of poland france usa etc, The possibility of citizens abroad having a large influence in an Irish election which ultimately affects the lives of irish citizens in ireland is a non runner. However There must be a compromise, maybe a time limit of a year or 2.

  16. Noreen

    ITman, most studies show that it’s actually a small number of eligible emigrants that actually vote, so I don’t think it would be as overwhelming as you might fear. In addition, there are ways around this – you could have specific emigrant representatives, for example, as opposed to allowing emigrants to vote in their home constituencies. The overwhelming majority of countries, even those with very high emigrant populations, have worked this out. There’s no reason why we couldn’t.

    I wouldn’t mind a time limit as a compromise, but I don’t think one as short as a year or two would be justifiable. It would be more fair to ensure that the majority of emigrants would be given enough time to become eligible to vote in their new countries – that way, Ireland is showing it has an interest in not allowing our citizens to be utterly disenfranchised, as is the case currently.

    Tomtaltach, the nature of emigration has changed so dramatically, that I think it’s likely that a very high proportion of those that are leaving today will return. I think there’s an argument to be made as well that many emigrants have an enormous interest in the future of the country, as many of them do plan to return – and there are countries that require a stated intent to return for voting rights. That’s another compromise I could live with.

    I just think that if you look at the solutions that have been worked out internationally on this issue, there are so many options. But it’s really been a knee-jerk no from the majority of politicians any time this issue has been raised.

  17. DD

    Marie, “No, it is factually incorrect to say that large numbers of non Irish have bought houses here.”

    Show us the statistics then Marie if that’s what you believe. i think you’ll be surprised to see that it is this statement that is inaccurate. There are well over a hundred thousand English, Scottish and Welsh living here. There are also over 40,000 Chinese nationals living and working here. I don’t know the exact statistics, but there are also many people from India, Pakistan, The Philippines, Egypt, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many many other countries, all living and working here. Recent official statistics show that there are now over 160,000 non-Irish nationals in the workforce here. That’s apparently 8% of the total workforce. The facts are there to see. And you won’t need to look too hard to learn that many of the non-nationals that have settled in Ireland have, over the years, bought property. Now whether the recent polish migration will produce a dearth of new or future homeowners is a different matter. Namely the current status quo of the property market. I believe that only time will tell whether the mass immigration from northern and eastern Europe will end in settlement or exodus, and my thoughts on that have already been recorded elsewhere on this site.

  18. Kevin

    Noreen, I think this issue will only be tackled by the Irish politicians if it is forced upon them from the EU. The current voting system in Ireland acts as a barrier to the free movement of Irish workers in the union since any Irish person that moves to another member state (even temporarily) is effectively punished for it. Maybe it’s time for a petition to be sent in to the EU from the million Irish citizens that are affected by this draconian mechanism?

  19. Johnd

    Could it be that the Irish living abroad can not be influenced by the massive amounts of expensive spin
    that preceed all Irish elections?
    I lived abroad for 11 years and always took an interest in Irish affairs but the obvious lack of constant
    local media meant my views of Ireland were more idealistic,long term and what I considered to be broad minded,maybe not having to pay Irish taxes then afforded me this luxury.
    They say all politics is local,if thats the case why spend time and money on anything that isnt?

  20. Aidan

    Linking voting rights to citizenship is in itself a problem. To become a Dutch citizen, for instance, you must renounce your Irish citizenship which is both complicated and expensive. Moreover renouncing your nationality of many countries can affect your inheritance rights. Long term residency should be enough to get a vote, I have lived in Holland for nearly ten years and follow Dutch politics avidly but I remain disenfranchised.

  21. Philip

    I am reading this article from a hotel wth some spanish and german colleagues in Stuttgart. We are talking about our kids and their fluency with wireless PC technology and their ability to participate way beyond the physical national boundary.

    David, we are a virtual nation, no longer bound by where we are, but by our culture and heritage. We converse with other cultures and identify more strongly with our own uniqueness as a nation by leveraging what the “knowledge” enconomy is becoming.

    Your Diaspora idea is actually starting to look very sound – and this article is yet another aspect of the puzzle. Hopefully one or two of our poilitical parties will see this and start to realise the potential.

    As for taxation/ representation issues etc. These are details that can be figured out. e-taxes for voting entitlement or for Irish promotion etc. are mere details to be thrashed out.

    For all you physically bound nationalists, wake up! It’s a big virtual world out there for the taking!!

  22. Aidan,
    Good point – I accept the difficulty with citizenship. It may have come across in my comments that I insist on citizenship before voting rights. That’s not the case – I am not too bothered about the mechanics of it, but for me it’s essential that you can vote where you live (again with an acceptable delay after you’ve moved). The corollary for me is that you lose your right to vote in the country you have left (again after an acceptable delay and perhaps other criteria).

  23. Philip,
    David’s idea that Ireland should draw on the resources of its diaspora is sound. That we should make better use of the network of Irish connections is beyond doubt.

    But the virtual nation idea can only go so far. In the end, the national territory is the unit over which we have sovereignty. If an Irish citizen moves to Germany and stays there, there is very little the Irish nation can do for her. If you’re in Germany, what point voting for say an Irish party in favour of public transport? The Irish government aren’t going to build a tube in Stuttgart.

    The virtual world is all very well for exchanging ideas, but practically speaking, people still live in cities, counties, regions and countries – and not in cyberspace – and it’s precisely at these levels that decisions need to be taken and policies implemented.

  24. mark

    your article explains a lot David, i reckon people with brains left here during the famine, survival of the fittest etc, so the gene pool left here was not the best, i.e. this had led to the current political mess, FF et all. Remember, in FF, the term pulling a stoke/fast one etc is to be admired. To be called a cute hoor is the top honour, but what these people forget is that we are now longer ruled by britain so the stokes pulled are actually against themselves, oh the dumbness of the native paddys is amazing. Its in the interests of the dumb paddys to keep intelligent people out of the system, they need to keep the wealth to themselves. One thing is certain, if intellligent people were allowed vote here then we might have a truely good county, but as bertie said, “its the best economy in the world”, says it all really….

    down with leeds

  25. Glen Quinn

    I am currently living in the UK for over two years and I would have liked to vote in the last general election. However I do see most of our political representatives in the Dail as hopeless and gobshits!!!

    When the whole political and financial system collapses in Ireland, I will be coming back over to Ireland with my hundreds of millions of euros as I believe in a complete totalatarian system. In this system I will do the following:
    1 Establish financial centres in each of our beautiful cities around Ireland.
    2 I will create great transport hubs for our ports, airports and railways and each one linking into the other effectivly.
    3 Proper Highways linking each of our cities to one another.
    4 Blending beautiful architectural cities into the Irish landscape
    5 Increasing effeciency with the loading/unloading of our ports.
    6 There is more great works on my agenda.
    7 Build nuclear power stations and also conduct research into renewable technology (It will take another 20 years for renewable technology to be productive)
    8 Build up our army, navy.
    9 Buying in Aircraft carriers, fighter jets and long range bombers and increasing our nuclear arsenal of atomic weapons.
    10 Increase awarness of Irelands agenda for peace

    All I ask for in return is your devotion to me and to worship me as you saviour.

  26. Noreen


    The international voting system you’re proposing is in utter opposition to the international zeitgeist – most countries are strengthening the links between them and their citizens abroad. (as evidenced by the fact that more and more countries are granting their emigrants voting rights – nearly 100 countries do, and the high-emigration nations of Mexico and the Philippines are among the most recent additions to that list.)

    In an era where people are more migratory than ever, when people are keeping in better touch, and short-term migration is more common, doesn’t it make sense to encourage people to keep in close touch with home base? Most countries want to harness the power of their international communities: consider such factors as remittances, investment, entrepreneurship, investment, ambassadorship, and international trade links.

    Not to mention the fact that many of these people will be returning, so voting is more than an act of the imagination…

    Whereas here in Ireland we sometimes like to think of emigrants as people dreaming of green hills and dropping tears in their pints… Although the IDA doesn’t think of them that way!

    There is simply no rational incentive for countries to withdraw their overseas citizens’ voting rights – and the trend is heavily in the other direction.

    Kevin, I agree that it’s something the EU might be useful for – certainly even the realisation that our attitude on the matter is in total opposition to our EU peers would be a useful one!

  27. SpinstaSista

    Nuclear weapons? Glen, that’s very scary indeed. What’s the point of Ireland having an agenda for peace if we spend citizens taxes on stockpiling nuclear weapons? Would it not be more sensible to improve our health service, invest in our education system and build more schools?

  28. DD

    I think you’ll find that Kevin was being obtuse.

  29. Noreen,
    doesn’t it make sense to encourage people to keep in close touch with home base? Most countries want to harness the power of their international communities: consider such factors as remittances, investment, entrepreneurship, investment, ambassadorship, and international trade links.
    I agree and I explicitly stated that it makes sense to draw on the resources of our diaspora. And I mean that for those who are not Irish born as well as those who are. This is a resource that we already tap – especially in Irish America. But we are making efforts elsewhere. For example, the Irish College in Paris has recently been significantly upgraded and is now the Irish Cultural Centre, the first of its kind for Ireland.

    I outlined the reason why I have concerns about extending the vote to the Irish abroad on anything other than a short term basis. It is the fact that they are so numerous and would have a huge impact on life here without having to bear the consequences of their decisions. I think that is a reasonable point. So far, no one has even acknowledged this concern and everyone is gushing with the notion of a happy clappy global village and the merits of our virtual world.

    Please tell me why it would be right for our decisions to be swayed by up to 25% by people who will not have to bear the consequences? You say, many Irish born return home. How many? The answer is probably that we don’t know. Until we do, nothing can convince me that we should allow others to take our decisions. And if figures can show otherwise, I’m open to a shift.

  30. Ruairi

    The Emerald and the Eagle? David, you should be the guy who thinks up names for fake companies in episodes of Murder She Wrote!! (are such throwaway comments allowed here???!!)

  31. Noreen

    Hi Tomtaltach, I don’t think I’m gushing with anything – certainly not a happy-clappy something!

    My point is that your proposed system would call for all nations to withdraw the right to vote. I was pointing out that the international trend, which you don’t seem to acknowledge, is in the other direction, toward granting voting rights.

    I have already acknowledged up above that I can live with limits on voting rights – as I said before, some other nations set time limits, require a declared intent to return, or require returning home to vote. Some countries dedicate particular representatives for emigrants. Allowing emigrants to have a voice in the political process does not mean that suddenly they will have an influence in direct proportion to their numbers.

    You are calling for a blanket ban on emigrant voting rights for not just Ireland, but for all nations. This is not reasonable – almost every other country in the developed world (and plenty in the underdeveloped world as well!) recognises the importance of emigrant voting rights.

  32. nostromartus

    I’d like to agree with everything tomaltach has said, consider the damage the PD’s have done to this country and then consider the influence a large number of american ex-pats and their political donations might wield.
    In the wake of the 9/11 attack if fianna fail were willing to rent out shannon as an American airbase, then their tent at the galway races for the run up for the 2002 election would have made the millenium dome look like a handkerchief. If the British were sucked into the nightmare of Iraq then I think the Irish army would have been the front line IED fodder for a “post war” Iraq, they would be conveniently forgotton about as the handful of american ex-pats living in ireland are unlikely to have much impact on american politics. That’s a hysterical response I admit but I think it’s important to hammer home the impact even a small number of ex-pats might have on Irish politics and not necessarily for the better as david assumes.

    To phil I like to say I moved from Clare to Limerick city 10 years ago, a distance of 12 miles, I finally transferred my vote for the last election, it only took me two days of running around filling out forms and getting them stamped in the Garda station. Ireland has one of the most expensive and poorest quality broadband networks in Europe, on a scale of Irish problems disenfranchised ex-pats are low on the list and unfortunately thats the problem you have to live here to realise the kind of things ex-pats take for granted don’t exist in ireland, two years is too long in irish politics ask anyone who bought a house last year .

    I agree the polish should be allowed to vote after living here for 2 years, their jobs are just as vulnerable to a worldwide recession as Irish jobs and since a worldwide recession would impact on poland too then why would they return home. Lately I’ve noticed a lot more homeless poles, the reality of denying them social welfare simply reinforces a second class citizenship forcing them to work for less driving down our wages. If it wasn’t in poor taste i’d put money on the top story of 2008 being homeless poles freezing to death, even after a property crash the middle class won’t admit they’ve all been conned, it will simply be the pink elephant in the room no one speaks of. Thats the real issue it was fine when the poles were doing working class jobs, but unfortunately they have degrees and are starting to compete with the middle class who respond by hamstringing them at every oppertunity.
    Marie’s comments are important because she’s echoing a lot of what the middle class are doing surreptitiously, recently I heard the new blessed trinity of apartment leasing, no foreigners, no single mothers and no one without a year long contract. Bare in mind a lot of these apartment complexes are empty apart from a couple of owner occupiers , a lot of small investors bought into the property ladder palaver buying flats to rent, these apartment’s value has plummeted and most irish people laughed at the exorbitant rents being charged and moved to the suburbs a year ago. These investors have to refurbish the apartments every few months to rent to new tenants and what they thought was going to be easy money becomes a full time job they can’t do. They took for granted Irish people would rent forever and pay for the interest rate increases on their landlords mortgage, the only people who can afford these flats are groups of poles living together.

    These apartment complexes were built to house as many people as possible in the smallest space, greed and poor planning are what created the transient community ,after every 18 months there has been a complete turnover of tenants from every apartment in the building, most will stay six months. This is a breeding ground for crime, local gangsters know they only need one apartment to deal from and the building is theirs, no one knows their neighbour and no one takes responsibility for maintaining the building, instead of admitting they’ve bought a bag of lemons the middle class blame the usual suspects and what was an anecdotal joke becomes leasing policy. So what happens when the middle class choose to leave apartments empty rather than lease them to foreigners, you get a short spike in rents because of restricted supply and then very slow but more pronounced property meltdown.

  33. Glen Quinn

    Hi SpinstaSista,

    Your absolutely correct and I was just pointing out in around about way that is what every other country in the World does that have nuclear weapons like China, India, Packistan, US, Russia, and maybe Iran). These countries would be better off without these weapons and provide the money instead to eduacation and health care but aparantly thats not how politics operates.

    Has the idea of a country changed from being a cultural place for its inhabitants to a cold place where everyone is welcome as long as they pay there taxes?

    In think alot of the ordinary Irish citizens have missed this point and they will get confused as to why there are so many foreigners in their country. Remeber all people of different cultures all adhere to the primitive impulse of congregating around people that are similar in culture and moral values, so when gettos start to form alot of people see this as bad and shouldn’t happen were it is a natural human impulse.

    Having different cultures in the one country is very bad as each culture will strugle for dominance (this is how Europe was formed). Each country will then be broken down into further different countries just the way Belgium is now going.

  34. “The Irish emigrants, who in any other country would be entitled to vote, might disrupt things. They would have little or no local loyalty. They might even vote on long-term issues. They might, God forbid, bring new ideas to bear on the election – ideas that they picked up abroad which our political elite could not vet. They would be maverick and maybe uncontrollable. The Irish abroad might not tolerate the state of the country and might have something to say about the failures of the Irish state in areas which they can compare with the facilities in the countries they have emigrated to.”

    This is perhaps the nugget in David´s essay..-a newly enfranchised diaspora might-out of sheer disgust- even set up a new political party!! Horror of Horrors.!
    Interestingly, although there is a law against absentee citizens voting in irish elections, there is no law against wealthy absentee “Friends of Fianna Fail” organizing “whiparounds” for their impoverished political brethren back home. Its all a bit skewed dont you think.

  35. Noreen

    It’s not only whiparounds – FF fundraised in the US for years, and FG has started fundraising there again this year.

  36. SpinstaSista

    If shoddy government policies forced people to emigrate in the 80s I can’t see them voting for the same shower who were in government back then. People who grew up and were educated in Ireland but had to emigrate to find work aren’t going to have a rosy romantic view of this country.

  37. And thats why they will never be allowed cast a vote,from abroad, in Irish elections. Cute hoors still reign. Votes soon for our new nigerians residents-no votes for irishmen abroad.! Cunning like this is the reason Fianna Fail are still in government!!. Like Butterkrust bread ,some things never change..

  38. Bye the way David, if you will permit me to stray from topic, I think the horrendous and draconian new laws effecting hundreds of thousands of (young and old) learner drivers on Tuesday next, merit your observations.
    Frankly I think it is unbelievable what Minister Dempsey has announced.It reminds me of the taxi deregulation debacle some years ago (due for a hearing in the High Court in the new year).
    The parallels are amazing.In both instances a decade of neglect, indifference, and inactivity, resulted in sudden drastic change.
    After long years inured to the suffering and inconvenience of a multitude of citizens who suffered dreadfully in the long waiting lists for driving tests (formerly they languished in long waiting queus for taxis)-our politicians are suddenly persuaded to enact an ill thought through, sledgehammer policy, to crack a nut created by the S.I.P.T.U./I.M.P.A.C.T. impasse in the public service unions.
    As they were once forced by Mary Harney to resolve their long unhealthy relationship with the Taxi federation – a relationship which was nurtured by by the now discredited but well rewarded former T.D.Ivor Callely to obtain a few thousand strategic votes in a marginal constituency in Bart Ahern´s own lair in Dublin North Central- our young citizens now face the prospect of unemployment and unbelievable hardsh
    ip duec to the fact that Ireland is a country totally reliant on the motor car for transportation from almost anywhere to anywhere. G.U.B.U. it may be, but thats the legacy of this government.
    Perhaps the Gardai should don swastika armbands next Tuesday as thousands of desperate young citizens flout the law, and Bart Ahern wear a khaki uniform in his next appearance in the Dail. His third term (or is it “Reich”) is truly at hand.!

  39. Latest news from the government tonight ,and minister Dempsey re the fascinating learner driver debacle, is that the law is not (really) the law after all!.Things are not as they seem. Each individual garda on checkpoint duty is a “law unto himself”.!
    He will have absolute discretion to impose the new legislation-or no!
    (dependent on whether he likes the look of the driver stopped at the checkpoint or not.?)
    What an amazing country.! Every garda is a kind of demi-god.! grotesque, unprecedented,bizarre, unreal.?

  40. Ed

    SpinstaSista – you’re so right there – even back in the late sixties and early seventies, when I was abroad, the exiles resented the government’s blatant cronyism. The effects of that practice are now evident in the shoddy management of our public services – how could it be otherwise, with no exposure to a properly managed system in the greater world. They muddle through on day to day basis and then hide behind those self serving actors that we call politicians. The Irish people are truly remarkable, time and time again they elect leaders on the basis of a narrow negative patriotism without a single thought about their management abilities other than they being able to organise their own election – when abroad, you get a clear view of the carry-on and they know it.

  41. Catherine

    I think that the 40 responses so far prove that this is a subject of interest for many many Irish people, those living in Ireland as well as Irish emmigrants living abroad.

    I moved to France 20 years ago when I was 19. I have never in my life voted (either in Ireland or France). It is extremely difficult for a foreigner to obtain French nationality regardless of how long you have lived in France, what you do or if you have children with French nationality. My son has dual nationality (French & Irish), I have an excellent job as Communications Director for a large international company, and own 2 apartments in Paris and a house in Ireland. Yet after 20 years working and paying taxes in France, I have never had the chance to vote.

    I return to Dublin roughly once a month, and of course have always kept up-to-date on what is happening back at home.

    I have always felt great discrimination due to the fact that I have never in my whole life had to chance to vote. Who can believe that I am an EU citizen?

    I very much welcome David’s idea that Ireland should draw on the resources of its diaspora. Is there any way that we can unite the Irish living abroad in a petition to gain the right to vote from abroad?

  42. It is incredible that so many citizen of the E.E.C cannot vote just because they have moved from one part of this wonderful “United States of Europe” to another.No point in petitioning Fianna Fail.So, is it time the overpaid, duplicitious (sic) Brussels/Strasbourg bureaucrats did something useful at last?.’Do we have to ask foreigners to enfranchise us?
    Who will organize the new movement? Who are the new Parnellites.? Is there a new Daniel OConnell in the house-any house -any place.?
    From whence will a new hero of democracy emerge to bring light and hope and a new spirit of resistance to that repressive, dark, and dismal land called Erin.? Who will destroy the Soldiers of Destiny.Arise Cuchulainn. Royal Tara is destroyed.Your country hath need of thee, and every brave Fianna in this its darkest hour.

  43. AM in Belgium

    For the past 10 years, I have petitioned TDs and MEPs asking about the voting rights of Irish abroad. For the most part, every Irish politician is against the idea.

    I can vote in European and local elections here. But I can’t vote in Belgian national elections. I would like to. But that will never be afforded to me.

    I am Irish. I am European. I am Irish living in another European state, but yet one of the most basic and fundemandal democratic rights has been taken away from me by the Irish government.

    Had it been the other way around, being Belgian in Ireland. I could have had a postal vote.

    The only other EU country who does not allow its citizens to vote from abroad is Denmark.

    For John McDermot. It is not up to any EU body to ensure the voting rights of European citizens is upheld. Unfortunately. Unless one or more people try to take a case to the European court, then we are stuck with what we have at the moment.

    And after Bertie and co. have seen the Polish turnout, they will be way too scared to allow anyone to vote from outside the country. They’d be kicked out in double-quick time.

  44. Lonely Expat

    Excellent contributions from all, even the misguided (Jean) Marie (Le Penn) from Ennis. Living in the wrong century dear, but would have done well in the late 30′s / early 40′s.

    On a more serious note, as an Irish National living abroad for many years, I can honestly say that:
    1. I have no interest in voting in Ireland. I would not be qualified to exercise such a right. Indeed, I would abstain from exercising such a right before I did untold damage (as a Maverick)
    2. Giving people like me a say in Irish politics would not only be dangerous, it would also cost the Irish taxpayer undue amounts of money
    3. I fail to see the logic why I do not have a vote in the EU country in which I have been paying taxes for the last 15 years, my children go to school, I have bought property, etc.
    4. Similarly, I cannot understand the right by which the Irish refuse to grant this right to foreign Nationals living in Ireland (save it Marie)

    Admittedly, I am not necessarily the average expat – Catherine in France and others may have a much stronger desire (and case) for the right to vote. But you can’t please everyone.

    On a final note, a question to the politicians out there: In view of Ireland’s and the EU’s current state of woe, neglect, sloth and corruption, is it realistic to expect that either is willing to rectify the political void with which EU Nationals living in another EU country are faced?

  45. Good debate all round. But wasn’t the reason that Irish passport holders were excluded from voting here due to the fact that they were more likely to vote Sinn Fein (or worse!). It’s well noted that emmigrants and their descendants can be more nationalistic than those who stay at home and therefore are more in touch with the nuances of the situation on the ground. The conservative nature of the Pakistanis in the UK compared to those at home in Karachi is another example.

    While I think it is awful that Irish-born people who move abroad are disenfranchised, we have to realise that they are only a fraction of the total who hold Irish passports. That group mainly consists of those from Northern Ireland and the USA. Can you imagine the impact that a million ex-pats would have had on the dynamics of the peace process in the Republic? Say goodbye to 96% Yes vote for Good Friday Agreement.

  46. Noreen

    Hi Lonely Expat – I understand that there are lots of Irish people abroad like you who have no interest in voting, but I don’t think that’s an argument against emigrant voting rights. Most countries that have emigrant voting rights have relatively low rates of participation, simply because many people feel as you do. But I don’t think that someone choosing not to exercise a right has anything to do with whether they’re entitled to it in the first place – many people who live in Ireland choose not to vote, but that doesn’t lead to them losing their vote (nor to them campaigning against the right of others to vote).

    The cost argument doesn’t cut it with me, either – as taxpayers I suspect we get a lot more from Irish people living abroad than we dole out to them. We’re all about exploiting them economically. The cost of a postal vote would surely be minimal compared to, say, the amount of investment coming in from expat business executives or returning entrepreneurs.

    Non-Irish citizens living in Ireland can vote in local elections – this policy is more liberal than that of many other countries, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the national franchise were extended to them eventually as well. They also have the option of becoming citizens and getting full voting rights that way, although the government would really need to clear the backlog in the system that is currently leading to waits of several years.

  47. Noreen

    Donal, I haven’t heard anyone arguing for votes for passport-holders. That would be a different issue, and I’d agree with you that that would be a very difficult argument to make!

    I think you’re right that fear of the Sinn Fein vote is something that hovers over this debate, but I also think it’s an out of date notion and based on unfair stereotyping. I just don’t think there are many emigrants who have left in the last ten years or so who would oppose the peace process.

    And don’t forget the key role that Irish expats in the US played in the peace process, and in securing the Good Friday Agreement. The notion that Irish people abroad would form a Sinn Fein voting block isn’t one that’s grounded in reality.

  48. SiobhanMac

    The reasons are obvious to any Irish person living abroad.
    When Church and State were hand in glove there was no way that the
    corrupted values of emigrants could be allowed to infect the purity of the resident
    Irish. With the demise of the Church it is now State alone that does not want voting
    based on clarity and unimpeded by emotive self-interest
    (e.g. Emperor’s New Clothes style house prices).
    By continuously dismissing the views of emigrants as those of people looking at
    the past through rose tinted glasses, Ireland is missing out on an opportunity to
    force successive governments to tackle serious issues (government corruption,
    drug-related crime, the pros & cons of immigration, the appalling health service,
    lack of schools, youth dependency on alcohol, carnage on the roads, etc).
    It is a long and depressing litany that the current government occasionally
    pays lip-service to while basking in the after-glow of a Tiger economy on the wane.
    We do not want a return to pigs in the parlour but perhaps we are in the best
    position to look from the outside in and recognise
    Ireland’s rapid descent into the mire for what it is.

  49. Lonely Expat

    Hi Noreen, its not that I don’t have an interest in voting. I yearn for that right – bot not in Ireland (which I exercised for many years when I was resident in Ireland). Having been absent for so long, I really cannot tell the difference between the electoral manifesto of Fiana Fail, Fiana Gael, PD’s or Sinn Fein – I’m just not in touch anymore. When I return (yes I still hold that passport), I will read up, becomed an informed member of the electorate and exercise my voting right. At the present though, am not qualified to influence such important matters. Nevertheless, I fully understand that there are many persons who deserve the emigrant voting right (excluding certain individuals from Ennis) – no argument there.

    On the cost side – I was not aware that I was the beneficiary of any “doling out”. Am I missing out on something? I hsimply though that impementing an emigrant voting system would naturally entail the usual backhanding, corrupt, nepotism that seems to feature so strongly in David’s articles (or responses thereto). Wanted to save you guys some dosh.

    Finally, on the point of right to vote in local elections – yes I exercise that right here too. Does it make any difference? No. This right is a token gesture offered to assuage consiences. Waste of time but we have to comply or they will accuse us of non-interest.

    I sincerely hope that Ireland sets an EU standard by giving immigrants the right to vote in national elections, but think this is utopia. History will tell.

    Finally, I also have the right to trade nationality for a vote. Good trade? I think not.

  50. AM in Belgium

    Lonely Expat: Like you, I cannot vote in either Irish elections or elections in my country of residence. I would love to be able to vote here in Belgium, but to do that requires becomming a Belgian citizen – which is quite pointless when both countries are EU member states.

    Therefore, since I am an Irish citizen, I believe that I should be allowed to vote in Irish elections. I don’t feel I’m out of touch at all with the happenings at home. In fact, I’m probably more in touch now, and more interested and knowlegable than I was when I was living (and voting) in Ireland.

    If the Irish government gave us ex-pats back our vote, then it would be up to the individual to decide whether or not they wished to use their vote. It should be individual’s choice and nobody else’s.

    On the matter of granting immigrants the right to vote. Currently any EU citizen has the right to vote in European and local elections in their country of residence. However, it is a general rule that you must be a citizen of that country to vote in it’s general elections and referenda. The exception here is the agreement between Ireland and the UK.

    Until the EU goes federal and stops being a collection of squabbling egomaniacs, the right to vote will not be granted to ex-pats or immigrants.

    It is something I would like to see. It would certainly shake things up, and stop the politicians from the old-boys clubs from assuming that they will always be in power.

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