Why it's time to give the vote to the Irish abroad

Why it's time to give the vote to the Irish abroad

ISN’T it about time we gave the vote to the Irish abroad?

Now I’m a little bit po-faced about voting. I take it very seriously.

I still find it quite moving when I go down to the local school and take my roll into the ballot box and express my vote.

I find it one of the most profound things we do in our society.

Of course, as the old saying goes, there are problems with parliamentary democracy but, by God, the alternatives are pretty grim.

I have insisted to my kids, now young adults, that even if they want to spoil their vote they need to vote.

I truly believe it is our duty as active citizens to partake in voting.

I’ve little time for those oh they’re all the same, there’s no point in voting nothing changes, voices. I’d argue they’re just covers for not having to think about things.

It’s easy to not engage, easy to dismiss democracy, easy to deride politicians, but that only leads to Donald Trump and does anyone who is serious want to entrust their democratic rights to the likes of him?

There is an Irishman called Gerry Molumby who has written about this far more and far more coherently than I ever could who I urge you to look up.

Gerry Molumby’s writings will explain to you the importance and justness of the vote for the Irish abroad far better than I ever could.

But here, for what it’s worth, is my take.

For one, I don’t think you can have too much democracy. I don’t think more people voting is ever a bad thing. How could it be?

Has there ever been a stage in human history when extending the franchise has been detrimental?

Secondly, giving the Irish abroad the vote is only recognising our own history and our own society.

Those who had to leave this country because of economic necessity, because of social pressures, because emigrating is simply part of being Irish, didn’t stop being Irish did they? They didn’t stop caring about Ireland or feeling they had ‘skin in the game ‘as to how Irish society developed.

The future of the country was still part of their future. As every Irish emigrant knows, for good or for bad, you depart but you never leave.

Of course, as Brexit has shown, there’s a lot of people entitled to Irish passports. A lot of people potentially eligible to express a vote.

Quite understandably this raises a question.

I’ve heard the most English people I’ve ever met express the opinion that they could get an Irish passport.

I know some very English people who have actually got an Irish passport. I’ll admit it rankles a bit.

To those of us reared and subsumed by Irish culture, to whom getting an Irish passport was a big thing, the getting of ‘Irishness’ in the form of a passport, so that you get in a different queue in the airport?

Well, I won’t say what I think about that in a family newspaper.

But that’s a different point because, in all honesty, how many of those people would bother to vote?

Are we to exclude those immersed in being Irish, committed to Irishness, who are deeply interested in the shape and future of the country, who will go out of their way to express their vote, because of those who almost certainly won’t?

After all, there are plenty of uninformed, uninterested, disengaged people living here in Ireland who are eligible to vote who can’t even be bothered to go their local polling station. We don’t insist they do. We don’t insist they be well informed and politically aware.

We don’t insist they understand Irish politics. And we don’t remove other people’s vote because of them. Our democracy really isn’t under threat by too many people voting.

Giving the vote to the Irish abroad is the right thing to do.

It is a debt we owe. It is an important acknowledgment of Irishness and of those who, historically and currently, contribute so much to who and what we are.

Indeed, it is not really extending the franchise, so much as restoring it.

The technicalities of how that is done is one thing.

Before that there is the question of what is ethically and socially just.

In that regard it is hard to see how a country with such a history as ours should not extend simple voting responsibilities and rights to those of us outside of the State.

In that way, at least, and forever, we bring them home.