Peter Casey: Without a vote, we emigrants have no voice in decisions that affect our return
Many emigrants today give back in investments as well as paying taxes to Ireland
I WAS born in Ireland, grew up in Ireland, love Ireland, and left Ireland. In this sequence, I am hardly alone. "Most countries send out oil or iron, steel or gold, or some other crop," President John F Kennedy said when he visited his ancestral homeland in June 1963, "but Ireland has had only one export and that is its people." So it has been since the 17th Century, and the rate today is 1,000 a week, amounting in 2012 to 50,000-plus emigrants from an island of 6.3 million – 4.58 million in the Republic, 1.8 million in Northern Ireland.
Like most who leave, I was forced to leave to make a living. Unlike the great majority who left in the past, many of those who emigrate these days are entrepreneurs who give back to Ireland, bringing new businesses and investments. I am among these. I live today in Atlanta, Georgia, where I am chairman of the global recruitment firm I founded. But I invest in Ireland, I have set up businesses in Ireland, I pay Irish taxes, and I employ local people. Some of my countrymen know me as an investor panelist on RTE's Dragons' Den. I am by birth, by law, and by desire an Irish citizen. Yet I do not have a vote in America or in Ireland.
As of 1998, Article 2 of the Irish Constitution declares, 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". Article 2 goes on to proclaim the nation's "special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage". Irish law essentially allows anyone with an Irish-born citizen grandparent to claim Irish citizenship. Great-grandchildren as well as descendants of Irish emigrants may also claim citizenship, provided the parent through whom they trace descent was registered in the Foreign Births Register before the descendant was born. Although the Irish diaspora is currently estimated at some 70 million, the number of those eligible to claim citizenship stands at about 3.1 million, of which at least 800,000 and possibly somewhat more than a million are Irish born.