Dara O'Briain: Voting from abroad feels intrusive

Dara O'Briain: Voting from abroad feels intrusive

GIVING voting rights to the Irish abroad is no joke, says Britain’s leading Irish comedian.

Speaking exclusively to The Irish Post, Dara O’Briain said he “understands” why the Irish abroad might want to vote for their President.

But the Wicklow native claims he would feel like “an intruder” if he had a say in the Parliamentary landscape of Ireland while not paying taxes back home.

O’Briain’s comments come just weeks before the issue of votes for the Irish abroad is due to be discussed in Ireland’s Constitutional Convention.

“I am not in favour of me having the vote in an Irish Parliamentary election because I do not pay taxes over there,” said the London-based comedian, who hosts The Apprentice: You’re Fired for the BBC.

“I cannot support someone’s economic policy for a country I don’t live in because I won’t bear the brunt of what they do. I cannot decide from here that Ireland should veer to the right or veer to the left.”

He added: “For me to vote would feel like an intrusion.”

Asked whether he wanted the right to vote in Presidential elections, O’Briain said:  “I can see an argument in favour of it, but I will not be campaigning for it.”

Citing the President’s “almost non-political role”, O’Briain explained he thought such a move could “create a bond” between the Irish abroad and home by giving them “an investment in Ireland”.

“It could be self-reflecting as well in the sense that people would only sign up if they felt that level of engagement with the country anyway,” he added.

The Constitutional Convention will discuss giving the Irish abroad the right to vote in Ireland’s Presidential elections when it meets in three weeks’ time.

The 100-strong group could recommend an historic change, including giving that right to second and third generation Irish people in Britain and further afield.

Over the course of two days, the panel is also expected to consider whether the Irish abroad should have a say in Parliamentary elections.

“There is an unchallengeable case for the rights of citizens abroad to vote,” said Martin Collins from the Federation of Irish Societies, which has been campaigning for all Irish citizens in Britain to get the right to vote in Irish Presidential and Parliamentary elections, as well as referenda.

While campaigners admit there hasn’t been much demand for voting rights from the Irish in Britain in the past, they claim those who have been made aware of the campaign have responded positively.

“Just because the Presidency is a non-executive role, we do not think that a Presidential vote would be a token,” Mr Collins said.

“This is about the process of engagement with Ireland and from the Irish point of view, of involving the Diaspora and treating its citizens as citizens.”

Ireland’s current position on voting rights for its citizens living abroad “does not reflect modern democratic thinking”, he added.

Ireland and Malta are the only two countries in the EU that do not allow their citizens to take part in any elections from a foreign country.

Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad, a London-based lobby group, appeared before the Convention earlier this year, arguing that the Dáil should have a set of special constituencies reserved for ex-pat communities.

“The immediate disenfranchisement of Irish citizens as soon as they leave the country is a source of anger and frustration,” said VICA chairwoman Mary Hickman, professor of Irish studies at St Mary’s University in London.

“Irish citizens who have had to leave have no say about the direction the country should take.”

We want to know what you think: How would you feel about voting in elections back home?