TORY backbenchers have inadvertently provided the Irish community in Britain with a “motivational tool” to mobilise voting ahead of this year’s general election.
Senior Conservative MPs who called for the right to vote to be removed from Irish members of the electorate have in fact given them more reason to head to the polls on May 7, says Matthew Doyle, Chair of the Labour Party Irish Society.
“I think what this move shows is, at best, a lack of understanding and recognition of the contribution the Irish community has made to Britain’s success over the years,” he explained.
Doyle has since called on Prime Minister David Cameron to condemn the move, which would affect 345,000 Irish voters nationwide, but his Downing Street office refused to comment on the issue when contacted by The Irish Post this week.
Earlier this month Tory MPs called for an emergency law change which would deprive up to 1.5 million non-British nationals from voting in the elections this May – including 345,000 Irish-born members of the electorate.
Former Cabinet Minister Liam Fox and the most senior backbencher Graham Brady are two of the Conservative party members who are championing the change to the law.
But the Labour Party Irish Society was quick to point out the flaw in Tory remarks made during a debate on the matter, which suggested that British citizens could not vote in Irish elections.
In reality, Ireland and Britain have traditionally enjoyed a relaxed relationship with voting.
As it stands, people from Ireland and the Commonwealth realms have the right to vote in general elections in Britain.
In addition, British citizens in Ireland can vote in all Dáil elections, under the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland since the 1980s.
Despite Mr Cameron’s refusal to engage on the topic this week, Doyle believes the actions of his backbenchers will have the opposite effect to that which they desired.
“This attempt to remove their vote sends a clear message to Irish voters – they need stand up and make their voices heard,” said Doyle.
“Perhaps the Tories would be better served by looking at why they aren’t winning support from Irish voters.”
He added: “I think this will be a motivational tool for the Irish community in Britain. They will make sure to get out and have their voices heard. We will be there to make sure this is done at election time.”
While the proposed changes to the law have been widely condemned, both in Britain and in Ireland, Doyle believes the Prime Minister should make his view clear on the matter.
“The Conservatives should focus on championing the Irish electorate,” he said. “David Cameron should be clear in condemning these proposals. I hope we will see the Conservatives praising the contribution the Irish have made to British society.”