The ‘Sindo’ and Themselves Alone– By Patricia MacBride

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Dr Ciara Kelly’s article in the Sunday Independent on 16th June: “Don’t let the old Diaspora shape our Ireland” starts from the premise that “our Ireland” is constructed entirely of Irish-born citizens resident in the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland.

The Sindo’s article is certainly brimming with  a sense of birthright, but only the birthright of a select few.

That is not the Irish nation, though. Article 2 of the Irish Constitution states: “It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.”

Dr Kelly asks: “…do we really want citizens who have either left these shores for their own reasons or have never actually lived here at all, a say in one of the pillars of our democracy?”

Let me point you back to Article 2.

It is not for Dr Kelly, or any journalist or politician to deem that my Irish identity is lesser than theirs.  

I am as Irish as Seamus Heaney.  I am as Irish as President Mary McAleese.  I am as Irish as Dr Ciara Kelly.  My Irish identity is as innate and unchangeable a characteristic in me as my curly hair.

The argument that there should be no representation without taxation is not logical.  If only those who pay income tax to the Irish state are permitted a vote, then strike off full-time students, low-income pensioners, stay-at-home parents and those unable to work due to illness or disability from the electoral register.

It is correct that those people may pay VAT or other taxes, but so do the 40,000 cross-border workers.  So do the thousands of young emigrants who come home to visit their families each year.  What is she suggesting?  Is there going to be an office where you turn in your petrol receipts to prove you’ve paid excise duty or VAT in order that you may register to vote?  That’s not a reasoned position.

There is a jarring disconnect between the assertion that only those who pay taxes should be permitted to vote and non-tax resident individuals voting in or influencing elections and politics  through the media organisations they own or control. 

It is only one generation ago that people on this island were barred from voting because of their economic status.  If “the Ireland we live in is largely progressive and liberal” then in what way is it acceptable to create a hierarchy of citizen? Quite simply, it is not.

Dr Kelly is also concerned that: “Even giving those north of the Border a vote is problematic. They vote along sectarian lines there, in a way we don’t here.”

Her concern seems to be that she might end up with a British Unionist president if there was a split vote in a large field of candidates.   Firstly, only Irish citizens can run for President.  Secondly, if an Ulster Unionist were elected then that’s called democracy.  That would truly be cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and would signal the progressive, liberal new Ireland of which I and many others want to be part.

Wanting to curtail people’s ability to exercise their birthright because you don’t like for whom they might vote is called gerrymandering at best and Fascism at worst.

There is nothing in the options paper produced by government last year which suggests that there would be any change in the process of electing a President.

Any candidate for President must be nominated by 20 members of the Oireachtas or by four County Councils. This safeguard has prevented candidates with extreme or unpopular views from securing nominations in the past and it will in the future.  To say otherwise is ill-informed scaremongering.

Around 10% of young people in Ireland emigrated during the recession.  They are part of our diaspora.  They came #HomeToVote in two referendums that changed the fabric of the nation.  For that alone, they deserve a say in who is Head of State.

The Irish who prospered in their new homes in other countries supported Ireland in times of need.  They were our champions in business and industry, they punched well above our weight as a small country in international relations and peace-building.  They have invested in our nation’s past.  They deserve a stake in its future.

They are #AsIrishAs me, or, indeed, Dr Ciara Kelly.

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Patricia MacBride is an Academic at the Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster where she is currently undertaking research on post-conflict reparations. A former Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, she is also a regular media commentator on politics and victims’ issues.

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