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    Sign the petition to save longwave

    Monday, October 13th, 2014

    There is now a petition up at Change.org asking RTE to postpone the move to shutdown longwave.

    You might want to sign it, too. Here is the text:

    We are requesting that RTE keep its broadcasting services to the Irish in Britain. RTE announced with one month’s notice that it would shut down its longwave service on October 27. This move was done with no consultation with its listeners, and will be a significant loss to the whole Irish community.

    A wide section of the Irish community listens to RTE Radio 1 on longwave in Britain – people of all ages listen in their cars, sports fans hear GAA matches, and for many older emigrants, it is a treasured link with home. There are no adequate alternatives for many people: RTE advises listening online or via satellite, but these are not accessible to everyone. Listeners in Britain (and Northern Ireland) will not be able to use DAB, which RTE is also pushing as an alternative, as that signal is only available in parts of Ireland.

    Older people are likely to be hardest hit by the shutdown, and many of them will lose this powerful link with Ireland forever. As the chair of the Provincial Council of the GAA of Britain, Brendie Brien, has said, longwave provides “a home from home – and the shutdown would be depriving them of that.”  The shutdown will be “a massive setback to the whole of the Irish community…We have a lot of old people who wouldn’t be into modern IT – and who won’t have any access to Ireland whatsoever once that would go.”

    RTE does not know how many people are affected by the shutdown of this vital service and have not released the amount of money this will save. The longwave transmitter is only ten years old.

    We are asking for RTE to postpone the longwave shutdown until there are better alternatives for all the Irish in Britain.

    The petition is being shared on Twitter and Facebook – please sign and share.

    Urging RTE to keep the longwave link for the diaspora in Britain

    Monday, October 13th, 2014

    I have an article in today’s Irish Times arguing that RTE’s impending shutdown of its longwave service will be deleterious to the vitality of the Irish community in Britain. The oldest and most isolated are the ones who will be hurt the most, but the shutdown will actually affect a broad cross-section of the community.

    I thought the chair of the GAA in Britain said it best:

    Last week Brendie O’Brien, chairman of the GAA in Britain, described the impending shutdown as “a massive setback to the whole of the Irish community”.

    “We have a lot of old people who won’t have any access to Ireland whatsoever once that [the longwave service] goes.” O’Brien described Radio 1’s role in the lives of many emigrants as that of providing “a home from home, and the shutdown would be depriving them of that.”

    You can read the whole article on the Irish Times site.

    Submission to DFAT’s Foreign Policy Review

    Monday, February 17th, 2014

    The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is currently conducting a Foreign Policy Review, including a review of diaspora strategy. I submitted the following to the Review earlier this month, stressing the need for democratic engagement of Ireland’s citizens abroad and the effects of disenfranchisement on overseas citizens.

    ————

    While Ireland seeks to be a leader in terms of its diaspora strategy, the issue of democratic  representation is one in which Ireland lags – and with increasing numbers of states giving its expats votes, Ireland’s omission in this regard is all the more glaring. Irish and international attention to this deficit is likely to continue to grow, particularly with the recent EU Commission’s recommendations to the five member states, Ireland included, that restrict the voting rights of nationals who leave the country to live, work and/or study abroad.

    Ireland’s overseas citizens are tied to the state in ways that can have powerful effects on their lives. There is insufficient attention paid to policies that affect emigrants – and this is both a cause and a consequence of Ireland’s refusal to allow emigrants a role in the apolitical process. Citizens can frequently be affected by policy decision in ways that can be life-altering, and there is far too little recognition of these effects by politicians, policy-makers and the wider public.

    With no representatives to speak for them, the interests of overseas citizens remain uncrystallised and unarticulated, and the population of citizens at home has little awareness of and no reason to respond to them. Paradoxically, while opponents of emigrant voting declare that giving emigrants the vote would give overseas citizens the right to make decisions that do not affect them, the effects of at-home political decisions on overseas citizens are almost never discussed.

    The policies that affect citizens overseas are numerous.  For those who are planning to return, these include, but are not limited to:

    • Economic policies – The rates of emigration and return migration tend to correlate with unemployment levels. A well-functioning economy, with relatively low unemployment rates, will be a necessity to enable the large-scale return that many of today’s emigrants are hoping for.
    • Social welfare policies – Emigrants have been adversely affected by the way in which the Habitual Residence Condition has been implemented. Despite pre-implementation assurances that returning emigrants would not be adversely affected by the condition, thousands of emigrants have been prevented from obtaining assistance such as job-seekers’ and carers’ allowances.
    • Education policies – Returning emigrants are affected by residency policies that determine pricing for third-level education, as well as placement in schools at younger ages.
    • Spousal immigration legislation – Emigrants are affected by legislation that will affect their ability to return with their spouses or civil partners and families.

    Policies that may affect emigrants whether they plan to return or not include:

    • Taxation – Irish people who leave the country may be subject to several forms of tax. Anyone who is a homeowner must pay the relevant taxes, and people who retain money in Irish banks or pension funds are also subject to tax.
    • Emigrant support budget – This budget provides funding for organisations working with Irish communities abroad, particularly the vulnerable and elderly among them.
    • Broadcasting policy – Broadcasting policy affects whether emigrants have access to national stations from abroad. This is a particular issue for the Irish in the UK, who have been adversely affected by decisions made in recent years regarding both television and radio broadcasting.
    • Contributory pension levels – Many overseas citizens are entitled to the contributory pension based on payments they made while working in Ireland. They are affected by adjustments in the level of payment and eligibility requirements.
    • Consular service levels – Overseas citizens will at times require the protection of Ireland in the form of consular services. They may be adversely and disproportionately affected by cutbacks in consular staffing and embassy closure, or otherwise affected by decisions made concerning the level of support given both generally to citizens overseas and in individual cases. Consular protection levels can affect the convenience of citizens seeking to avail of everyday services like passport renewal, the welfare of those in legal trouble abroad, and the  safety of overseas citizens in times of crisis in their host countries.
    • Descendent and spousal citizenship – Changes have been made to limit the right for overseas citizens to pass on citizenship to descendants or gain citizenship through marriage, and those citizens most affected by this decision have had no say.
    • Diaspora strategy – Irish people living abroad are strongly affected by policies regarding diaspora outreach and communications; funding of cultural and networking organisations abroad; economic engagement and other matters.

    Currently, Irish citizens living abroad have no right to representation on any of these issues, and this has potentially detrimental effects on those living abroad. These issues and any ensuing detrimental effects will be unrecognized as long as they have no voice in the political system.

    Current structures that allow for dialogue between Ireland and the diaspora tend to privilege the most successful among the diaspora. Initiatives such as the Global Irish Network and the Global Irish Economic Forum have an important role to play in engaging successful overseas citizens to work on behalf of Ireland – but one of the great strengths of the Irish community overseas has always been in the loyalty present at the grass-roots level, and by the way people at all socio-economic levels have engaged in developing the relationship between Ireland and the diaspora. There is a need for a broader, two-way communication that can only be provided through democratic channels, where the voices and concerns of all citizens can be heard and addressed.

    While there have been many proposals for votes for emigrants in Presidential elections and the Seanad (and these are important and welcome), it is clear that Dáil votes are necessary to adequately address the issues affecting Irish emigrants. Dedicated representatives for overseas constituencies in the Dáil would be the most effective way of ensuring the democratic rights of all Irish citizens abroad. Because all Irish citizens are bound by the constitution, votes in referenda are also essential. To ensure proper representation at European level, Ireland also needs to facilitate the vote of Irish citizens living abroad for MEPs.

    With the renewal of large-scale emigration, an increasing desire on Ireland’s part to engage its communities abroad economically, a well-connected citizenry, and a changing international climate in which democratic participation of overseas citizens is the norm, there is clearly a need for the Irish government to reexamine the laws that disenfranchise its citizens on the day they emigrate.

    Which other countries allow their expats to vote only in presidential elections?

    Sunday, September 29th, 2013

    At the Constitutional Convention in Dublin yesterday, international comparisons of voting were presented. One of the points raised was that in a 2007 study, there were 14 countries that allowed their expats  to vote only in presidential elections. Those countries were:

    • Afghanistan
    • Benin
    • Bolivia
    • Brazil
    • Central African Republic
    • Chad
    • Côte d’Ivoire
    • Dominican Republic
    • Ecuador
    • Honduras
    • Mexico
    • Panama
    • Tunisia

    In keeping with the global trend of expanding the franchise for expats, however, several of those countries  have added new rights for expats. This is not a definitive list but countries that in 2007 allowed only a presidential vote but now allow votes in additional types of election include:

    Ecuador – a new constitution in 2008 allowed votes for representation in the national assembly, along with mayors and governors. There are six dedicated representatives in the national assembly.

    Dominican Republic – expats now have votes in the Chamber of Deputies. There are two regional deputies reserved for Dominicans living in the Carribean and Latin America, 2 for Europe, 3 for Canada and the US.

    Tunisia – Tunisian expats now vote for 18 seats in the 218-seat assembly.

    There was also something missed at yesterday’s discussions – the distinction between out-of-country voting and the right for expats to exercise their franchise if they return home. Ireland does not allow emigrants to stay on the voting register if they intend to be away for more than 18 months. There is no legal channel for them to come home to vote.

    In many other countries that have no system of absentee balloting, however, non-residents are welcome – and sometimes given assistance with travel arrangements. These include:

    Lebanon – tens of thousand were reported to have returned home to vote in 2009.

    Israel has no absentee ballot but Israeli citizens can fly home to vote.

    Zimbabwe – The diaspora vote is a contentious issue in Zimbabwe, and thousands were reported to have flown home to vote in July.

    Indians can fly home to vote, following changes in legislation made in 2011.

    Maltese nationals have traditionally been assisted in flying home to vote with reduced ticket prices from the national airline.

    115 countries allow their expats to vote? Not anymore…

    Friday, September 27th, 2013

    When I first started writing about emigrant voting rights back in 2006, a study had come out saying that there were 115 countries and territories around the world that allowed emigrant voting rights. The number would now be far higher – some of the countries that have introduced or are in the process of introducing voting rights or absentee ballots for overseas citizens since then include:

    • India
    • Costa Rica
    • Bolivia
    • Paraguay
    • Egypt
    • Libya
    • Tunisia
    • South Sudan
    • Cyprus
    • South Africa
    • Malaysia
    • Fiji

    As the trend toward overseas citizens voting rights continues and accelerates, Ireland’s status as a true outlier becomes more extreme.

    Constitutional Convention’s survey on emigrant voting rights disappoints

    Thursday, September 26th, 2013

    The Constitutional Convention has conducted a survey to accompany this weekend’s discussion on whether there should be voting rights for emigrants in presidential elections. At first I welcomed this outreach and the opportunity it provided  to gauge the opinion of the Irish abroad on this topic.

    Unfortunately however, my enthusiasm was replaced by extreme unease when I opened the survey – because rather than straightforwardly presenting matter-of-fact options about which forms of political participation might be favoured (if any) by respondents, it instead served up a strange mix of assumption and stereotype that seemed to have been rooted in some less than flattering attitudes about Irish citizens abroad. Many of the questions had  only tenuous links to the question of voting right for overseas citizens.

    Respondents were asked to assess, for example, whether emigrants were likely to have “an unrealistic or distorted picture of Ireland”, whether non-taxpayers should ‘dictate’ how much tax others should pay, whether one’s primary loyalty is to Ireland or another country. Several of these questions appear to take on board assumptions frequently made by those opposed to voting rights for overseas citizens.

    I was not the only one who found the survey wording alienating. I saw negative responses on Facebook and Twitter, as well as in personal conversations with people who had taken the survey. I got together with two others who have taken an interest in emigrant voting rights to compile the response I have pasted in below. I have submitted the document to the Constitutional Convention on their website as my third submission to the Convention.

    Additionally, the Irish Echo in Australia has also submitted an editorial to the Constitutional Convention’s website outlining many of the same problems with the survey.

    To their credit, the organisers of the Constitutional Convention have not really tried to defend the survey, and the Convention’s Secretary, Art O’Leary, invited us to respond with our criticisms as soon as he picked up on the rumble of discontent on Twitter.  Speaking at an event I attended at the London School of Economics earlier this month, he acknowledged the wording of the survey was “appalling”.

    Here is the text of the submission:

    The Constitutional Convention survey: a response

    The survey on emigrant voting conducted by the Constitutional Convention was perhaps not the best way to achieve an unbiased sampling of public opinion on emigrant voting.

    One of the problematic aspects of the survey is that several of the questions seem to build in assumptions commonly used by those who oppose emigrant voting, but which are not based in fact (questions 8, 10, 11). Several of the questions have questionable relevance to the issue of emigrant voting (questions 8, 11, 13, 14). Additionally, responses to several of the questions can be interpreted in multiple or even contradictory ways (questions 7, 8, 10, 14).

    To take each one (using the numbers that correspond to the survey question): (Questions 1 through 6 were questions aimed at classifying respondents, not gathering opinions.)

    7. The right to vote should depend on citizenship not residence

    These options are not mutually exclusive:

    • A person could believe, for example, that both non-resident citizens and non-citizen residents should be allowed to vote.
    • A respondent could also believe that the right to vote should be dependent on both citizenship and residence, and that only resident citizens should be allowed to vote.

    A respondent who disagrees, therefore, could believe any of the following:

    • the right to vote should be limited to residents
    • the right to vote should be extended to all citizens and all residents
    • the right to vote should be limited to only resident citizens.

    8. If people are not paying for services through taxation they should not have a right to dictate the extent to which those who do should pay.

    a) For this question to have any relevance to the emigrant voting issue, it would seem to require an assumption that emigrants do not pay taxes. This is, in fact, an assumption often made by opponents of emigrant voting – and it is false. Some emigrants do pay taxes: for example, all emigrants who own a home in Ireland (whether they acquired it through purchase or inheritance) are required to pay both the local household tax and the non-primary residence tax.

    Additionally, some residents are net beneficiaries of taxation. (There are movements in other countries that call for the disenfranchisement of all net beneficiaries of taxation, such as welfare recipients, politicians and civil servants. It is easy to see how undemocratic this concept is when the statement is recontextualised in this way.)

    b) The use of the words “to dictate” is contradictory to the spirit of the democratic process. Voters decide, they do not dictate. This word choice is a poor way to accurately determine attitudes – it is hard for someone who believes in the democratic process to accept that it would be appropriate for any group of people to ‘dictate’ the obligations of others.

    c) Voting and citizenship are about many more issues than taxation.

    One could thus strongly agree with this statement and still be in favor of emigrant voting rights. Affirmative respondents could mean, for example:

    • Non-taxpayers should have no vote.
    • All taxpayers should get the vote.
    • Taxation decisions should not be made by non-tax-paying dictators
    • Net beneficiaries of taxation should not have the authority to levy tax on taxpayers, including emigrants.

    9. Emigrants should be allowed to vote in the elections for the office of the President.

    This question seems appropriately neutral.

    10. The votes of emigrant citizens should be taken into consideration but not outweigh those of resident Irish citizens.

    The meaning of this is unclear. How would votes “be taken into consideration”? What does “outweigh” mean in this sense? Does it mean to “outnumber”? (As the DFA estimates there are roughly 3,000,000 Irish passport-holding-citizens abroad, as compared to 4.5 million resident in the republic, and international experience would predict a smaller turnout among emigrant voters, it would be hard to conceive of a situation where non-resident citizen voters would outnumber those of resident Irish citizens.) Is there some other way in which non-resident votes could outweigh the votes of residents?

    Those disagreeing with it may mean:

    • the votes of emigrant citizens should not be taken into consideration, or
    • the outweighing of resident Irish citizens should not be a factor

    11. Many emigrants have an unrealistic or distorted picture of Ireland

    Who is the arbiter for determining realistic, undistorted pictures of Ireland? Would, for example, a single parent living in the midlands earning the average industrial wage, a Dublin bank executive earning 250,000 a year, and an unemployed young person in Donegal all have the same image of Ireland? Should anyone’s right to vote be granted only if they are in accord with a common image of Ireland that can be agreed by all (or the majority) of its resident citizens?

    Additionally, what is to be gleaned from the question of whether emigrant citizens feel that many others have a distorted picture of Ireland? This could, for example, be indicative of confidence (or overconfidence) in one’s own ability to perceive Ireland with greater clarity than others. Or an emigrant who feels angry and disaffected may feel that others maintain too positive a view of Ireland, while an emigrant who is naturally optimistic may feel that others are unnecessarily pessimistic. It could also be indicative of a generation gap, whereby a young person with little experience of older generations of emigrants may be under the impression that older emigrants’ views must be distorted and inaccurate.

    This question is particularly problematic because it appears to feed into a commonly expressed, stereotypical view of Irish emigrants. The response is as likely to reveal the extent to which respondents are influenced by this stereotype, as whether emigrants actually have “an unrealistic or distorted picture of Ireland”.

    12. Emigrants should not be allowed to vote on basic principles of the state as set out in the Constitution, i.e. the right should be extended to referendums on the Constitution.

    The original version of this question question contained a typo – the word “not” appears to be extraneous in the first clause (or is missing from the second).

    13. As a resident of ___ I feel my primary loyalty is to that country.

    The question of primary loyalty regarding emigrant voting rights is not a clear-cut one. Like many other countries, Ireland allows dual citizenship. It does not, therefore, require that emigrants choose between loyalty to their home and their host countries, and, in fact, the loyalty of the Irish abroad is a feature commonly praised by politicians in describing the relationship between Ireland and its overseas citizens.

    Additionally, even those emigrants who do feel a ‘primary loyalty’ to their new countries will still be affected by Irish laws: for example, an Australian-based emigrant who owns a home in Ireland will still need to pay his or her household tax, even if he or she declares a primary loyalty to Australia. The reverse is also true: maintaining one’s primary loyalty to Ireland will not protect an emigrant from, for example, being subject to the habitual residence condition if he or she wants to return home.

    The concept of ‘primary loyalty’ is one, therefore, that does not reflect actual obligation, on the part of either the emigrant or the nation: the transfer of one’s loyalty will not grant an emigrant voting rights in another country – unless it is also accompanied by taking up citizenship, a process which in most cases will take several years. Even then, taking up a second citizenship will not absolve an emigrant of any responsibilities in Ireland. Meanwhile, Ireland offers no reward to any emigrant who would refuse to adopt dual citizenship and retain Ireland as one’s sole citizenship.

    14. I value my membership of an Irish community where I live.

    This is a useful question for a survey on Irish emigrant attitudes generally, but what does it say about voting?

    Those who disagree may be saying:

    • they do not feel that they have membership of an Irish community where they live
    • that they regard their membership in an Irish community as being of little value
    • there is no Irish community where they live

    It is not evident what agreeing or disagreeing with this statement reveals about whether one might support or oppose the right to vote.

    Noreen Bowden
    Marc Scully
    Lorcan Lyons

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