By Scott Jamison & Ray O’Hanlon
The upcoming Irish general election could result in Irish citizens living in the U.S. for the first time being granted some degree of voting rights on their native soil.
But already there is a chasm apparent between Fine Gael and Labour, the two parties considered in the best position to form a coalition government after the Feb. 25 vote.
Labour wants to extend voting rights to emigrants in local, general and presidential elections for up to five years after they have left Ireland, but Fine Gael’s proposal would limit voting rights to only presidential elections.
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Labour’s Ciaran Lynch, who co-authored an Oireachtas committee report on electoral reform in 2009, said his party would facilitate the extension of the vote to emigrants.
“People who have been forced to leave this country in search of work are justifiably angry and should not be denied the chance to vote on how their country is run,” Lynch said.
The divide over voting emerged in a week in which Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and the Green Party all launched their respective manifestos with transformation of the voting system and reform of the Irish parliament an evident priority for all.
Fine Gael outlined its package, referred as “radical” by party leaders, which would see the voting age reduced from 18 to 17.
Fine Gael’s proposal to extend the franchise for presidential elections would cover “eligible citizens” living outside the country, although the party was non-committal on what the term “eligible” would precisely mean.
“Fine Gael, if elected to government, will change things radically and permanently,” party leader Kenny said.
Also included in his party’s manifesto are commitments to hold a referendum on abolishing the upper house of the Oireachtas, the Seanad, and reducing the overall numbers of TDs in the Dáil, a number which currently stands at 166.
The party, which polls show has a chance of forming a single party government without Labour, added that it wants a citizens assembly, made up of 100 members of the public, which would make recommendations on electoral reform.
Fianna Fáil is also proposing a reformed Oireachtas,
Party leader Micheál Martin said the party wanted to see a “much stronger parliament, a bit more like the American model…one which over time would see the development of a creative tension between parliament and executive, which is lacking at the moment.”
Sinn Féin said it would abolish the Seanad “in its present form” if elected.
Party president Gerry Adams, who is running in the Louth/East Meath constituency, said Ireland need “a good conversation” about political reform.
Labour has said it would establish a convention to draw up a new constitution.
Launching the party’s plans, Brendan Howlin, its spokesperson on constitutional matters, said the core of Labour’s proposals was the establishment of a new constitutional convention, with no part of the existing 1937 constitution, Bunreacht Na hÉireann, exempt from consideration.
The Green Party announced that it plans to create 100,000 new jobs between now and 2020 as part of a “green” recovery, should it be successful in the election.
Its plans include investments in forestry, home insulation, eco-tourism, electricity interconnection and broadband. The Greens also propose transferring all public services to cloud computing, and providing access for the private sector to government data.