Within the restraints of 140 characters, he somehow manages to deliver a full range of cod fireside homilies; GAA-related similes stretched well beyond their natural snapping point and (naturally) playground stylee anti-Brit insults… but nevertheless for his myriad of Unionist followers on Twitter Barry McElduff is a must-read, the gift which simply refuses point-blank to stop giving.
There have been so many to choose from but the comment which has caused perhaps the greatest mirth to his pro-Union devotees side was last year’s revelation, whilst on a trip to the Dáil Eireann, that he was in fact not only the MLA for West Tyrone but also its Teachta Dála; a privilege also now (according to Baz anyway) enjoyed by Paul Maskey, the recently elected MP for West Belfast.
Once we’d all picked ourselves up from ROFL, It was patiently pointed out to him by the more literal minded amongst us that claiming a seat in the Republic’s parliament was a tad presumptious seeing that the Dublin government doesn’t permit him the right to vote even in their Presidential elections.
Despite his misplaced bravado, Barry knows the truth and it’s clear this denial of voting rights does rankle with Irish nationalists and Republicans living in Northern Ireland and, to be honest, I have sympathy for their position- after all, is there any real value in being the citizen of a nation if that nation does not permit (or perhaps even trust) your contribution towards the governance of that nation? To put the attitude of the Republic’s government towards their Northern supposed brethren in perspective, 29 of 33 Council of Europe member states allow non-resident citizens to vote; globally, over 110 states including both the US and even Iraq presently grant it.
The standard argument consistently utilised against granting the franchise to not only Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland, but also those who are resident overseas is the ‘no representation without taxation’ mantra. Well, yes, there is a definite objective logic there but that surely is also a logic valid for the 29 European countries which do permit their citizens, no matter their residence, the exact same right? This is a debate which has been held several times on Slugger before (most recently here) but I thought it might be interesting this time to ponder what may be the real reasons why the Republic’s government is reluctant to extend the franchise by drawing comparisons with events presently unfolding on the other wing of the European Union.
This is the point at which the title of this piece (and also, not coincidently, the title of Arthur Griffith’s influential book on how he saw Ireland’s political future developing in the early years of the Twentieth Century) becomes relevant.
In Hungary there is presently governing the kind of right-wing, irredentist, ethno-nationalist government not seen in the Republic since perhaps the days of Charlie Haughey. Its Prime-Minister, Viktor Orban, just like Haughey, is also the supreme political opportunist. Throw into the mix some three million ethnic Hungarians living (or *stranded* as Magyar ethno-nationalism would have it) in the countries surrounding Hungary “proper” and a comparison of sorts to our present position here starts to take shape. Another relevant parallel with “Ireland” is that many of those Hungarians living outside modern Hungary, concentrated in ethnically homogeneous areas within Szekelyfold (Transylvania, Romania), Felvidek (S. Slovakia), W Ukraine and Vojvodina (Serbia), see themselves and are regarded by Magyar nationalism as the true standard bearers of the Motherland and are consequently more than likely to vote for any right-wing, irredentist, Magyar-nationalist party which is prepared to give them the option of doing so.
So… what is the Hungarian government proposing, just conveniently as their popularity starts to plummet within its own modern borders? Why, not only the granting of Hungarian citizenship but also the right to vote in the country’s election if the individual can tick all the appropriate *identity* boxes (e.g. language knowledge, the “right” ancestry).
In all the regions likely to be affected, the different ethnic communities (including also Europe’s biggest minority, the Roma) have since the collapse of communism lived separate lives but generally also in peace with each other- the “shared spaces” which create so much problems in N. Ireland to a large extent don’t exist… but then neither do our trademark “Peace” Walls. That situation, in all likelihood, will continue but the proposal is starting to created problems on the ground: the Slovaks have threaten to rescind the Slovakian citizenship of anybody on their side of the border applying for Hungarian citizenship and the right to vote; the Ukrainian secret police have (allegedly) being keeping tabs on applicants and the always gently simmering pot in the mixed Romanian/Magyar towns such as Targu Mures and Cluj-Napolca has just started bubbling that little bit more vigorously.
But that is of no concern to Mr. Orban and his Fidesz party. They genuinely regard a Magyar living anywhere within the region of the historical “Greater Hungary” as being exactly the same as one who lives in Budapest and, more importantly, genuinely believe that they are also entitled to exactly the same rights. The rise in communal tension along the borders suits both his combative style of nationalism and with the added influx of potential right-wing, nationalist voters to the electoral roll from beyond the country’s borders, then the granting of that voting right makes perfect sense from both an deeply-held ideological and party-political point of view.
This, however, is where the comparison of the latter-day “Resurrection of Hungary” to the situation in the Republic and Northern Ireland starts to fall apart and also explains why the “the ‘no representation without taxation’ excuse for not granting the franchise to its citizens living in N.Ireland is a convenient but false one.
Can you imagine any Irish Taoiseach in 2011 when speaking about “his fellow countrymen” over the border saying, as Orban did this week, it is “sad” “nationalistic viewpoints” are regarded with “suspicion” in the rest of the European Union?
“It is not nationalistic feelings but artificial ideologies that we should fear”?
Can you imagine any political party in the Republic (bar Sinn Fein of course) being prepared to sacrifice community relations in Northern Ireland for the sake of short-term, domestic, partisan gain?
Does the Republic’s political establishment value or fear the views (as potentially expressed through the ballot box) of its citizens living north of its border?
Are they firmly convinced there is a political, cultural, social and economic gain to them or the wider country to be achieved by introducing 300,000 plus Northern nationalists into their electoral melting pot?
No, no, no, no and most definitely no again.
Orban has proven if the will is there to provide voting rights for a nation’s citizens/”kinsfolk” living beyond its borders then, regardless of the wider communal, social or economic damage, it can be delivered; the European Commission last week said this topic belongs to the sphere of “national autonomy”. The Republic’s mainstream political establishment simply do not possess that will- for the vast majority of us, on both sides of the border, for a whole host of reasons I think we should be grateful that is indeed the case. If I were however an Irish nationalist living in Northern Ireland, I would still find this truth rather distressing.