By Ray O’Hanlon
The Irish government is “utterly failing” Irish citizens living abroad when it comes to voting rights, this according to Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Irish overseas and diaspora, Senator Mark Daly.
The diaspora will have not an opportunity to vote in the next election for Seanad Éireann, despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s promise of a “democratic revolution,” said Daly in a statement.
A working group set up by the government to examine the matter of Seanad voting rights last week recommended that Irish citizens in the North and overseas should have voting rights in Seanad elections.
The Working Group on Seanad Reform was chaired by former leader of the Seanad, and current chancellor of the National University of Ireland, Maurice Manning.
It was set up by Enda Kenny after the proposed abolition of the Seanad/Senate was rejected in a referendum vote. Kenny committed his government to implementing any reforms proposed.
“While there might be a desire to implement the proposals, given that votes for emigrants have been promised for a long time, the sheer logistics of what is involved would probably require a much longer run-in period,’’ the Irish Times, citing a government source, reported.
The seeming lack of urgency in moving towards Irish citizens in the North and overseas voting for a small number of Seanad seats was described as “another big disappointment for Irish citizens living abroad,” by Senator Daly.
“They should not be treated as second-class citizens and should be given a vote and a voice in the election of senators at the time of the next election. Unfortunately, this government has completely disenfranchised this group of people because reforms will not be enacted in time and instead will only apply to elections held after the next Seanad members are voted into office,” he said.
“Following the last general election the government committed to increasing the voice of the Irish diaspora. The Constitutional Convention, which Fianna Fáil was extremely supportive of and participated in, was tasked with examining the possibility of extending voting rights to the diaspora.
The convention decided in September 2013 voting rights should be extended to our diaspora. This was a strong a positive step forward because the members of the convention were drawn largely from the public themselves,” Daly said.
And he added: “In the French Senate there are twelve senators elected to represent French nationals living abroad. In an Irish context a reformed Irish Senate is one way to ensure that Irish citizens who live abroad and in the North have a voice in Leinster House.
“I am urging the government to expedite the reforms needed to secure voting rights for Irish citizens living overseas. Quite frankly they have been waiting long enough and the government should step up to the mark.
“Unfortunately this government has taken little or no action and shown little interest in progressing this. Fianna Fáil recognizes the important contribution our diaspora makes towards Irish life.
“In our reform proposal for Seanad Éireann, published in 2013, we committed to ensuring that the diaspora would be directly represented in Seanad Éireann. This would be an important first step to give our diaspora the recognition that they deserve.”
Sinn Féin spokesman on the diaspora, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, was critical of the actual proposals from the working group.
He said the proposals for Irish citizens living abroad fell far short of what people wanted and deserved.
“The fact that it won’t even be delivered in time for the next Seanad election gives this the whiff of another Fine Gael/Labour pre-election promise which won’t be delivered upon,” Ó Clochartaigh said.