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  • Active Citizenship Task Force Submission

     

    The Task Force on Active Citizenship was established by the Taoiseach in 2006. The Task Force solicited submissions on how to ensure the maintenance and development of civic spirit and active participation in Irish society. This was Éan’s submission.

     

    Éan – The Emigrant Advice Network
    Submission to the Task Force on Active Citizenship

     

    Background: Éan

    EAN, the emigrant advice network, provides support for emigration and return migration information providers in Ireland and abroad as well as interested individuals and academics by facilitating the exchange of information and good practice. It aims to raise awareness of emigration and issues arising from it.

     

    Background: Irish emigration

    There are 1.2 million Irish-born citizens living abroad.

    While the majority of the Irish abroad emigrated before Ireland’s recent economic prosperity, recent CSO statistics show that emigration is still continuing:

    • 17,000 people emigrated in the year up to April 2006.
    • Returning emigrants accounted for 23% of Ireland’s 86,900 immigrants in the same period.

    The Irish government has displayed an increasing awareness of the importance of its relationship with the Irish abroad. In particular, the 2002 Report on Policy Regarding Emigrants marked a turning point in Ireland’s relationship with its emigrants. It made a number of recommendations, some of which have been implemented, aimed at providing effective support to the Irish abroad. Some of the recommendations were also aimed at “the development of relationships with Irish communities abroad through which political, economic, social and cultural links could be fostered to our mutual benefit?.

    The Emigrant Task Force noted that its interpretation of the relationship between Ireland and its emigrants was informed by Article 2 of the Constitution of Ireland, as amended by the 1998 Referendum held following the Good Friday Agreement, which provides that,

    “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.?

    The Task Force report also noted,

    “The new approach to meeting the needs of emigrants should be rooted in the recently introduced Constitutional commitment to the Irish Abroad. This includes acknowledging the Irish Abroad as part of the Irish Nation and recognising their achievements.? [Executive Summary]

    Additionally, the Task Force report also called for mainstreaming “emigration issues into all relevant social and economic policy areas so they are taken into account into the planning and delivery of Government services.? [Article 2.14]

    In accordance with this, any consideration of Active Citizenship should recognise the global nature of that citizenship and of the Irish Nation.


    Emigrant Citizenship

    At the same time that Ireland has been developing an enhanced awareness of its own emigrants, there has been an increasing international awareness of the responsibilities that countries of origin hold toward their emigrants.

    The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, for example, has recommended that member states should be invited to:

    a. review their emigration policies and solutions in the field of relations with their expatriates with a view to improving and strengthening them;

    b. to establish institutional links with expatriate communities if this has not already been done, in order to enable them to defend their rights, express their opinions and influence any decisions which might concern them;

    c. to take account of their expatriates’ interest in policy making, in particular concerning questions of nationality; political rights, including voting rights; economic rights, including taxation and pension rights; social rights, including social schemes; and cultural rights;

    d. to encourage and support the activities of expatriate associations and NGOs;

    e. to promote and support all forms of co-operation with their expatriate communities.

    [Recommendation 1650 (2004): Links between Europeans living abroad and their countries of origin]

    This model clearly advocates a more involved emigrant citizenry that will allow emigrants to play a meaningful role in the country of origin.

     

    Active Citizenship: Political participation

    Unlike many other countries, Ireland gives its emigrants no means of formal participation in the political process while abroad. Éan recognises that emigrant representation is an issue that has been promoted by political parties across the spectrum.

    With increasing globalisation and the revolution in communication and transport, there are enhanced opportunities for the Irish abroad to be informed, active and involved in Irish society. The issue of formal representation in the Dáil or Seanad is one that deserves new consideration.

    Moves toward enhanced political participation can be seen in context of the Irish government’s achievements in recent years in recognising the contributions and needs of the Irish abroad. They can also be seen in context of the increasing international trends toward developing policies of emigrant citizenship.

    Italy, for example, has recently extended its vote to 3.5 million Italian citizens living abroad, and this year expatriate voters elected 18 Italian lawmakers to represent them according to the regions in which they currently live. Other countries that allow their citizens abroad to vote include Great Britain, the US, France, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.

     

    Active Citizenship: Voluntary Activity

    The strength of the Irish communities abroad can be seen as active Irish citizenship in action. Many Irish communities abroad have a strong foundation of voluntary activity. The Task Force recognised the role that emigrants have played in both formal and informal voluntary activity, and the benefit that has been to Ireland:

    We owe much to our emigrants. Many of them helped their families who remained behind through generous remittances sent home from their hard earned incomes. In recent years, the establishment of voluntary funding organisations abroad and the personal generosity of individual Irish people who have achieved success, notably in the US, have led to the investment of large sums of money in Ireland. Moreover, people who returned to Ireland having gained experience abroad, have contributed significantly to the country through learning and innovation. The Task Force acknowledges this debt and recognises the sacrifices made by generations of emigrants to the economic benefit of Ireland. [Article 2.6]

    It is important to recognise that this activity, while taking place outside of Ireland, can still be of benefit to Ireland and is deserving of consideration as part of the concept of Active Citizenship. Additionally, much voluntary activity is of benefit to local Irish communities; just as the Irish Nation is a global concept, so should Ireland’s concept of Active Citizenship. Support to such activities, as recommended in the Emigrant Task Force report, will thus enhance the concept of Active Citizenship.

    For additional information, contact

    Noreen Bowden, Coordinator
    Éan – The Emigrant Advice Network
    87/88 Senior House, All Hallows College, Dublin 9
    Noreen@emigrantnetwork.ie (01) 8574108