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Those forced to emigrate deserve a vote

Those who have taken the hard decision to emigrate have as good a reason as anyone to vote.

I'd love to take Reverend Jesse Jackson's advice this coming Friday, and get out to vote in this extraordinarily important general election. I'd like to have my say. But, as one of the three million or so Irish passport holders now living abroad, I'm not entitled to.

I'm not allowed to post my vote. I'm not allowed to go to the embassy to vote, and, most interestingly, even if I were to return to Ireland to cast my vote, it would still be considered fraud because I was not 'ordinarily resident' in Ireland on September 1 last year. For this type of 'fraud' I would face up to two years in prison.

According to surveys carried out by The Economist, there are close to 128 so-called 'electoral democracies' in the world at present and 110 of them allow passport holders living abroad to vote. In the EU, Ireland and Greece are the only two which don't allow for it, and even the Greeks are in the process of writing up new legislation in light of a successful appeal involving the European Convention on Human Rights.

So why are we so typically out of step? I've seen the argument that: "If you don't live here, it's none of your business. If you want to vote you can move back."

This idea is unfair. It's a branch of that old abandonment theme which goes: "You got out and left us with the mess." However, it could be argued that many leave so as not to add to the mess. I've got a lot of respect for people with the 'get up and go' to emigrate. Contrary to what many think, it's not usually the easiest option and it takes a certain type of courage to refuse to accept the status quo of unemployment and life on welfare.

It's not even a question of 'either or', and I'm certainly not saying that one person's way of dealing with the awful state of things is better than someone else's. People are just different. But many do leave because they can't bear to be a burden on anyone, and do so with an eye to coming back at the soonest possible opportunity. If these people want to vote; not only should they be 'allowed', they should be encouraged -- like every other country in Europe.

The irony is that young Irish people now have more reason to leave their country than any of their European neighbours, and yet they are the only ones who lose their right to vote in doing so.

Sarah Carey recently made the argument in the Irish Times, regarding emigrant votes: "it's not reasonable that people who don't pay taxes should have a say in how those taxes are collected and spent". The issue I would have with this is that a General Election is not solely a beginning. It is also an end.

What about people who have been paying taxes and mortgages and loans, only to see the current administration making such a mess of things that they have had to leave the country in order to stay ahead?

There is another aspect to take into consideration here. In last Monday night's RTE debate, all the party leaders claimed that, if elected, they would implement some form of soft landing on mortgage repayments for struggling homeowners. So, if an Irish person living abroad is earning enough to make repayments on a home in Ireland, having emigrated in order to do so, won't he/she be saving the country more revenue by being proactive?

These questions should be redundant, however, because taxation/revenue/welfare and the right to vote have nothing to do with each other, and it is a strange notion that they could somehow be tied together. You either have the right or you don't.

I fully understand that in the larger scheme of our current problems, the vote of emigrants is a small consideration, but it is one that affects people who in many cases are only elsewhere because of the shortcomings of others.

The Irish people I know who live abroad have an obsessive interest in the well-being of the nation. Like me, they devour every scrap of information that can be gleaned from newspapers, internet streaming, Twitter, Facebook and everything else. They are more connected to Ireland than any previous generation of exiles has ever been.

There's another good reason why every other country in Europe allows citizens living on foreign soil to vote. As Jesse Jackson said: "If you don't vote, you lose the right to criticise."

Those who have had to take the hard decision to emigrate have as good a reason to criticise as anyone.

Sunday Independent