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    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

    What policies affect emigrants? A second submission to the Constitutional Convention

    Thursday, September 26th, 2013

    I have written previously about my first submission to the Constitutional Convention, which back in May was looking at the issue of electoral reform. This weekend the Convention will be looking at voting rights for emigrants in Presidential Elections. I have since made two additional submissions, which I’m posting up here for reference as well.

    Here is one of my new submissions, prompted by the common opposition argument that emigrants should have no say because of the (mistaken) assumption that emigrants pay no taxes and are not affected by Irish policies. (My third submission is on the Constitutional Convention’s survey, which also deals with these assumptions to some extent._

    _____

    Emigrant voting: Relevant policy issues and taxation

    Many argument by opponents of the right to a vote for emigrants revolve around the areas of taxation and public policy. It is often claimed that the right to vote should be limited to taxpayers (assuming that emigrants are not paying tax), and that emigrants are not affected by political decisions made by politicians. Both of these are problematic assumptions.

    The “taxation without representation” issue

    One common argument against the vote for emigrants is the notion that allowing emigrants the right to vote would be “representation without taxation” – as if “no representation without taxation” were a well-established democratic principle.

    It’s not: there is no democracy in the world that requires the payment of taxes in exchange for a vote. The US is the only developed country in the world that taxes its non-resident citizens on income earned abroad – and yet the US is only one of well over 100 countries around the world that allows its overseas citizens to vote. Even for US expats, there’s no actual link between paying taxes and being allowed to vote: the requirement is that American citizens file taxes; foreign-earned income under a limit of nearly $100,00 is exempt from US taxation. So many, if not most, US expats don’t actually owe any taxes to the US – and yet they all have the right to vote.

    The confusion, of course, seems to arise from the fact that the “No representation without taxation” sounds like “No taxation without representation” – a genuine rallying cry for democracy arising out of the American Revolution, and an explicit call for greater voting rights. “No representation without taxation” is the opposite – it’s a call to restrict democracy; a demand for a return to the pre-Enlightenment era when only men of property could vote. We don’t demand the exchange of taxation for voting rights in any other context: the penniless are as entitled to vote in Ireland as the wealthy, and we don’t exclude net beneficiaries of taxation (such as recipients of social welfare, or politicians and public servants paid out of the public purse) from voting. Modern democratic thinking requires the consideration of voters as citizens, not as taxpayers.

    In fact, Irish emigrants could justifiably adopt the original “No taxation without representation” as their own rallying cry, for an increasing number of them (including every emigrant who owns a home in Ireland) are being taxed in Ireland, without earning any corresponding right to vote.

    Policy issues affecting emigrants

    Another of the more common arguments against emigrant voting is that emigrants are not affected by policy decisions made at home. This argument reflects a lack of awareness of the very real ways in which emigrants are disadvantaged as citizens by having no political outlets. This lack of awareness of the effects of policy decisions on emigrants, of course, partially results from the fact that there is no accountability to overseas citizens in the political systems of those countries that do not allow emigrants to vote.

    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 political decisions on overseas citizens are almost never discussed.

    The policies that affect emigrants are numerous.  For those who are planning to return, these include:

    • 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 – Emigrants are affected by residency policies that determine pricing for third-level education.
    • Spousal immigration legislation – Emigrants are affected by legislation that will affect their ability to return with their spouses or civil partners and families.

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

    • Taxation – Many emigrants who have left recently are homeowners, and are required to pay several forms of tax on homes they own.
    • Emigrant support budget – this budget provides funding for organisations working with Irish communities abroad, particularly the vulnerable and elderly among them.
    • Broadcasting policy – this 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 – Tens of thousands of 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 protection 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.
    • 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.

    For all of these issues, there is a real risk for overseas citizens that Irish policy makers will make decisions without considering either the interests of those abroad who will be affected or the potential deleterious effects on the lives of Irish citizens abroad.

    Noreen Bowden
    GlobalIrish.ie

    The Constitutional Convention: have your say!

    Friday, May 17th, 2013

    Ireland’s Constitutional Convention will be looking at the issue of votes for emigrants this weekend, as it examines the issue of electoral reform. Mary Hickman of the VICA campaign will speak. The public has been invited to make submissions on the Constitution.ie website. There are many people who have written in on the issue of votes for emigrants, and VICA and the Federation of Irish Societies in London have made particularly good ones.

    If you haven’t submitted yet, it’s not too late. It doesn’t need to be terribly long – put in a few words and help shape Ireland’s future, and your own.

    Here is what I submitted today:

    1. Summary

    (a) Votes for overseas citizens should be considered as an important part of electoral reform, and especially for Dáil elections. Overseas citizens are affected by decisions made in Ireland, and they need genuine political representation that will enable their interests and concerns to be voiced and addressed.

    2. Issues affecting emigrants

    (a) Opponents sometimes argue that allowing overseas citizens the right to vote would be giving them power to make laws they won’t be affected by. This argument ignores the fact that emigrants are, in fact, affected by many laws and policies enacted in Ireland, in which they have no say.

    (b) Overseas citizens who are hoping to return can be particularly affected by decisions made by legislators regarding any of the following:

    • Economic policies affecting their ability to return
    • Social welfare policies (like the habitual residence condition that has been reported in the Irish Times to have prevented at least 3,000 returning emigrants from accessing social welfare after they returned home to find work or care for elderly relatives, sometimes resulting in destitution.)
    • Policies around education and the cost of university education for the children of returning emigrants.
    • Spousal immigration laws, which could determine whether an emigrant has the right to return home to live with his or her partner

    (c) Decisions that affect citizens while they live abroad, whether or not they plan to return, include those made in areas such as:

    • Taxation: Many emigrants are required to pay tax on property they own at home. “Taxation without representation” is a reality.
    • Pensions: Many emigrants have worked in Ireland and are entitled to a contributory pension; they will thus be affected by any changes in pension levels.
    • Levels of consular staffing and protection, which can affect the safety of citizens during times of crisis
    • Levels of emigrant support, which provides for on-the-ground assistance in local Irish communities abroad, often to the most vulnerable of emigrants.
    • Broadcasting policy, which regulates the ability of Irish communities in the UK and elsewhere to access Irish radio and television broadcasts as well as access to RTE onine services
    • Diaspora engagement policies, including the development of cultural, heritage and business initiatives; network development, return policies, foreign direct investment initiatives, and more.
    • Citizenship, which can affect the citizenship rights of spouses and descendents.

    (d) Many of these policies have a strong impact on the lives of the Irish abroad, yet the effects of these policies on emigrants and overseas citizens are barely on the radar for Irish policy-makers and voters.

    (e) There is thus a real need for meaningful representation of the perspectives of overseas citizens in the government.

    3. The problem of balance

    (a) Some object to the notion of votes for emigrants based on the idea that the Irish abroad could wield disproportionate power in their home constituencies. This is a legitimate concern, but the solution is not to ban all emigrant and overseas citizens’ voices, but rather to come up with a compromise solution that allows for a more balanced representation of all citizens’ perspectives.

    (b) Regional constituencies for emigrants, such as exist in France and Italy, should be explored as the simplest solution for allowing the clearest and most balanced representation of emigrant interests.

    4. The problem of taxation

    (a) Some people question whether it is fair for overseas citizens to vote when they do not pay taxes. It is often forgotten that the young emigrants of this generation, in particular, who have left Ireland in order to be able to pay their mortgages, will have to pay taxes on those properties. Similarly, older emigrants, many of whom are on limited incomes, may have inherited family properties which are also taxed.
    (b) A problem arises when people treat the saying “no representation without taxation” as if it is a well-established democratic principle. It is not. The US is the only developed country in the world that taxes its non-resident citizens on income earned abroad – and yet the US is only one of well over 100 countries around the world that allows its expats to vote. Even in the US, there’s no actual connection between paying taxes and being allowed to vote: the requirement is that non-residents file taxes, but don’t owe them on income under about $90,000. So relatively few US expats actually owe any taxes to the US – yet all US citizens are entitled to vote.
    (c) The confusion arises from the fact that the “No representation without taxation” sounds like “No taxation without representation” – a genuine rallying cry for democracy arising out of the American Revolution. “No representation without taxation” is the opposite – it’s a call to restrict democracy; a demand for a return to pre-Enlightenment era when only men of property could vote. We don’t demand the exchange of taxation for voting rights in any other context: the penniless are as entitled to vote as the wealthy, and we don’t exclude net beneficiaries of taxation from voting.

    5. The distinction between “citizens” and “the diaspora”

    (a) In the public debate over emigrant voting, there seems to be some confusion about whether the vote should be for emigrants, the 3 million citizens living around the world, or for the wider diaspora estimated at 70 million. Yet few, if any, advocates of emigrant voting rights are calling for the diaspora to be allowed to vote.

    (b) The Constitution currently, it could be argued, supports votes for all citizens, but not to the wider diaspora. Article 2 makes a clear distinction between them:

    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.

    (c) The Irish Nation, thus, is specifically meant to be comprised of everyone who has Irish citizenship. The Constitution states that there is a distinction between citizens, no matter where they live, (who are entitled to be part of the Irish Nation), and the wider diaspora (“the people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage”). The worldwide population of citizens have a claim on the Irish Nation, but the non-citizens of the diaspora have merely a ‘special affinity’ that is to be cherished but which offers no such claim.

    (d) Article 1 sets out the rights of the Irish nation:

    The Irish nation hereby affirms its inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of Government, to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.

    (e) This begs the question: If the self-determination right of the nation is “inalienable, indefeasible and sovereign”, how is it just or appropriate that a significant part of the Irish nation is deprived of that right?

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