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Why we shouldn’t give the diaspora the vote

This post has been brewing for a while. A letter appeared in the Irish Independent some time ago that took a theme that I’ve seen many times before, and which I’ve begun to form a strong aversion to. Here’s the text of the letter first of all (available here):

If David McWilliams (Irish Independent, December 16) is so concerned about the power of the ‘insiders’ in the political, social, financial and religious networks of Irish life, why did he not have that on the agenda of the recent Irish Global Forum held at Farmleigh?

He knows that for more than a century the networks of Irish life have been going to the Irish diaspora with begging bowls in times of economic stress. I suggest that if he wishes the power of the ‘insiders’ diminished that he offers Irish citizens in the diaspora a vote in Irish national elections.

Most modern democracies with large diasporas have done so. Indeed, some old democracies like Britain and France are now doing the same.

Firstly, this would be a sign of recognition of the contribution made by the diaspora.

Secondly, Irish citizens in the diaspora voting in national elections would hopefully burst the bubble of ‘insider’ personalism that permeates Irish life.

Thirdly, it would give Irish people in the diaspora a sense of inclusion.

Is that too much to hope for?

Bobby Gilmore
Navan, Co Meath

I’ve written about the Irish diaspora previously here, Diaspora, schmiaspora! How about the chickens who came home to roost?, so you can probably guess that based on that article, I am strongly opposed to us providing a vote to the Irish diaspora.

I can’t argue that the letter above may have an attractive proposition to providing the vote to the diaspora as it might dilute the impact of the so-called (by David McWilliams here) “insiders”.

However, what else was the Global Irish Economic Conference organised by the selfsame David McWilliams but one big love-in amongst the “insiders” – both the diaspora and the Irish based?

But that’s really an aside. I’m against providing the vote to the Irish diaspora because they have no true (interest) in how our country is run. The diaspora choose not to live in Ireland, for whatever reason, so why should they be allowed determine the destiny of those who actually do choose to live here (or live here because they don’t have any other options).

The reason that the David McWilliams “insiders” can wield so much power in this country is because those who live here decide to let them.

It takes, I think, about 1.1m people to change the government in this country.

But based on the 2007 election approximately 1.1. people didn’t actually bother to vote at all. That’s enough people to remove the “insiders” completely from Irish life, but those people who have the most to gain by doing so, don’t actually bother.

As the truism, or saying, or whatever goes – “we get the government we deserve”.

On a more positive note though, 507,000 people last year signed up in Facebook to demand a replay for the Ireland v France World Cup playoff game while 46,000 want John Joe from the Late Late Toy Show to fix their clocks.

That’s pretty much half way towards changing how our country is run. It’s a pity so many people just don’t care enough about the things that really matter.

3 comments On Why we shouldn’t give the diaspora the vote

  • You say that people who leave Ireland have no interest in the country. But what about those who are only temporarily away, as students, or on a year abroad? And particularly, what about those who would love to stay, have never contemplated emigration, and find themselves forced by their economic circumstances to leave – and who hope that the economy will pick up so that they may return? And I’ve heard about fathers leaving their families behind to go work to pay the mortgage – do these people have no interest left in Ireland? None of them are entitled to vote.

    There are people living here who aren’t interested in voting – why do you think it’s in Ireland’s interest to ensure that those who are, and who hope to return to Ireland, have no voice here?

    Allowing emigrants to vote is the norm in developed nations. There are only two countries in the EU that don’t let their expats vote in national elections: Greece and Ireland. Do you think we’re the shining examples of democracy in Europe, or do you think we might have something to learn from our peers?

  • I believe in a very simple principle in this case: No representation without taxation. The Irish living outside this country (for whatever reason) don’t pay tax and therefore have no right to a say in how that tax is spent. Now that said I would personally be in favour of a US style taxation and voting system. If you hold an Irish passport you should be made submit a tax return to the Revenue every year. We then calculate the tax you owe the Irish state, subtract the tax you have already paid in your country of residence and send you a bill for the balance. In exchange you can register to vote in Dail and Presidental elections in your “home” constituency. If you don’t hold an Irish passport but still claim to be part of rhe diaspora then that’s fair enough. Yoy can still wear the shamrock on St Patrick’s day. However you’re not a citizen so you don’t have to pay tax to the Irish state but you don’t get a vote in our elections. To complete the circle I would extend the right to Irish citizenship (and therefore passport, tax and votes) to anyone who can prove Irish heritage no matter how far back. This would be similar to the Jewish people being entitled to citizenship of Israel.

    Citizenship has rights and responsibilities. Citizens vote. Citizens pay tax.
    Diaspora have no responsibilities and no rights. Diaspora don’t pay tax Diaspora don’t get to vote.

  • You say you’d be “in favour of a US-style taxation and voting system” – but there is no such system – they are completely separate. There’s a taxation system, and a voting system; they’re not interlinked, the policies aren’t related, and your ability to vote in US elections while you’re abroad is completely separate from whether you file a tax return or pay any taxes.

    The majority of US citizens don’t pay taxes when they work abroad – there is a legal requirement that you file a tax return, but you don’t pay any tax in the US at all until you’re earning about 90,000 bucks. So relatively few Americans living abroad pay taxes, all of them have the right to vote, and your status as a US voter isn’t related to whether you’ve filed a tax return. You are perfectly free to vote even if you’ve filed no tax return at all – your vote is simply your right as a US citizen.

    The US is also the only developed nation in the world that taxes its expats’ overseas income, while nearly every other developed nation in the world allows its expats to vote, and none of them require a tax from their expats. It would be hard to make the argument that paying taxes is a fundamental requirement for franchisement in any democracy in the world.

    “No representation without taxation” is a perversion of the American Revolution’s rallying cry for democracy, “No taxation without representation”. It gains its presumed legitimacy here in Ireland from the fact that it “sounds like” a genuine principle of democratic thinking, but it’s about limiting democracy to those who can afford to pay, so it’s a wholly anti-democratic sentiment. It’s also a slogan of radical activists in the US and the UK who want to disenfranchise net recipients of taxation (public sector workers and welfare benefit recipients).

    I’m pretty neutral about the idea of instituting a taxation system for expats – though I think it would probably be counter-productive, as the amount gained would be far less than is coming in now from the diaspora in diaspora-linked FDI, philanthropy, biz deals facilitated by expats – you get the point. But it’s a totally separate issue – for Ireland to require taxation to allow emigrant voting would roll back centuries of post-Enlightenment thought about democracy, and bring us back to the days when only men of property could vote.

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