Why should emigrants not have a vote in Irish elections?

Some of you may have noticed that our own Peter Geoghegan had a thought provoking piece in the Guardian earlier in the week on the perennial chestnut of votes for emigrants. It’s a very good question for a country that perennially relies on whole generations to leave an overcrowded domestic market to seek their living elsewhere.

As Peter points out, other nations are a great deal more generous to their diasporas:

More than 110 countries allow passport holders living abroad to vote. Ireland, with its long history of emigration, is not among of them. Unlike citizens of, say, Ghana, Mexico or the Dominican Republic, Irish people living outside the republic are barred from directly participating in the electoral process. Greece, the only other EU member with a similar policy, is in the process of amending its legislation following a successful appeal by two Greek nationals living in France that the law breached the European convention on human rights.

Sarah Carey however rules that kind of thinking out of bounds. Not least because the number of passport holders overseas almost equals the number of residents at home (erm, in ‘the twenty six’):

I like the guiding principle of “no taxation without representation”. It’s not reasonable that people who don’t pay taxes to the State should be allowed to have a say in how those taxes are collected and distributed. Those living in Ireland, no matter how poor, will pay tax, directly or indirectly.

If we are to change this system and insist that citizenship and not residency is the basis of the franchise, the right to vote must come with some corresponding obligations. Paying tax is the obvious choice.

And Sarah has a very salient point. What do you do about those passport holders who have never resided in the state. And never paid taxes? Northern Ireland folk for instance, who choose Irish passports but have never paid a penny in southern revenue?

And you can just imagine the havoc all those ‘ex pat’ Sinn Fein votes would wreak on the southern political ecosystem. It might be fun to watch from afar, but it’s hardly just.

But if you look slightly beyond Peter’s argument to how other countries do it, in most cases, there is something of a residency requirement. For instance, in the US, in the general election of 2004 the NYT advised that:

“Regardless of how long you have been out of the United States, you have to mail the application to the last state you lived in before moving abroad.”

So what is wrong with that Sarah?

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