It was perhaps inevitable that in the recent announcement of eleven new members of the Irish Senate by Taoiseach Enda Kenny there was neither sight nor sound of a senator representing the diaspora.
What was once a seemingly viable political idea has gone cold of late and hasn’t been helped along anyway by the lack of constitutional reform of the upper house in the two-tier Irish parliament, the Oireachtas.
Kenny himself was once in favor of three senators representing the overseas Irish and stated this on a visit to New York a few years back.
His party, however, has since retreated from this position and indeed now questions the very need for Seanad Eireann at all.
The representation issue has walked more or less in lockstep with that of voting rights for emigrants, an issue that came up for mention in a few quarters during the recent general election.
Obviously, there are two ways to nail down senate representation – by a vote or by appointment. It’s a race to the finish for both these options. Only problem is the horses are nowhere in sight.
From time to time there have been efforts to push against the closed door on the representation matter. IF’s name was put forward as a candidate for the Senate a few years back. That’s now ancient history and in truth the move was more of a means of highlighting the issue than it was one aimed at actually securing a Senate seat, which would have been impossible anyway without constitutional reform of the 66 member body.
More recently, and in the hope that the Taoiseach night consider an appointment of a diaspora representive as one of his eleven, IF suggested the ILIR’s Ciaran Staunton as a viable choice. Alas, no luck there.
Now, in what amounts to another heave against the closed door, U.S. based publisher Niall O’Dowd is signaling that he might mount a presidential campaign though from which landmass is not clear.
To do so, O’Dowd would need the support of 20 members of the Oireactas, that being the Dáil and Senate. A major party’s backing is usually the quickest way to the magical 20 but all of them, barring Sinn Féin, already have candidates in the field.
An O’Dowd bid would once again highlight both the lack of voting rights – campaigning from the U.S, he would not be able to vote for himself – and the overall lack of representation for the overseas Irish.
O’Dowd told the Irish Times that he had been approached by a cross-party group of Irish and Irish Americans who urged him to consider putting his name forward. “He would not disclose their identities,” the times reported.
“I am very passionate about Ireland and about the future. I hate to see what is happening to it. The people laid out a compelling case. I said I would consider their request. They sketched out the importance of the role, of job creation, of the U.S., and how a president could be a business president. The U.S. is where Ireland needs to be.
This generation has had its future stolen from them,” O’Dowd told the Times.
Interestingly, O’Dowd’s brother, Fergus is a junior minister in Enda Kenny’s cabinet but Fine Gael already has a couple of candidates in the field. Family or party then?
It remains to be seen where Niall O’Dowd goes with this, but regardless of outcome the Irish government has been reminded again that being gone from the land does not necessarily mean gone and forgotten.
SPIRIT OF EMMET
Quick question. What’s the collective noun for a large gathering of diplomats?
No idea but Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, convened such a gathering of top Irish diplomats in Dublin last week, this as part of an effort to have Irish plenipotentiaries across the globe get the message out that Ireland’s banking and financial situation has steadied and that the country is open for business.
This wasn’t a bad idea although in IF’s experience Irish diplomats in the U.S. have been getting a positive message across for quite some time.
Anyway, it must have been nice for colleagues to get together and compare notes. Given the nature of the job they are so often ships in the night.
Be that as it may, Gilmore’s pep rally was aimed at getting across a multiple part message that, in the words of one report, included the assertion that Ireland was meeting its EU/IMF rescue package targets, was returning to economic growth, had dropped prices and rents, and was holding onto its low corporate tax rate.
Gilmore also urged the diplomats, 76 ambassadors and heads of mission from around the planet, to underline Ireland’s reputation for innovation, scientific research and the arts and described their mission as “a major diplomatic initiative to restore, in the words of Robert Emmet, Ireland’s place among the nations of the earth.”
“Because, for all our difficulties, Ireland does have a very positive story to tell, and it is up to all of us to communicate it effectively,” Gilmore said.
IF, of course, is convinced to begin with, but this column is always open to a well-worded diplomatic dispatch, not to mention anything and everything uttered by Robert Emmet, whose spirit clearly permeated the two day diplomatic pow- wow.
IF has been reminded by Maureen McKean, in timely fashion of course, that the AOH celebration of 175 years has been raised to new heights by the 50 voice choir that sang at the recent anniversary Mass at Old St. Patrick’s in Manhattan. The choir is comprised of the Hibernian Festival Singers from Long Island. Readers can learn more about this serene ensemble at hibernianfestivalsingers.org.