We let them rot in Cricklewood

In 1967, eight years before Enda Kenny entered the Dáil,  another Mayo native John Healy wrote his book ‘No One Shouted Stop – Death of an Irish Town’ chronicling the devastating impact of emigration on the town of Charlestown, Co. Mayo.   As the title suggests the book focused on the failure to act and the complacency that characterised the official response to emigration.

As we enter Enda Kenny’s 40th year in the Dáil there is deep disappointment that the Taoiseach who grew up in a Mayo ravaged by emigration has not grasped the historic opportunity to end the disenfranchisement of Ireland’s emigrants.

The Irish state, unlike over 120 countries worldwide and most European states, does not allow its citizens living abroad to vote.

The Constitutional Convention established by the current government recommended a referendum be held on this issue.

However despite a growing demand for action the Taoiseach has made clear that a referendum on votes for emigrants will not take place in the lifetime of this government and that this is an issue for the next government.

Rather the government has chosen to put to the people a referendum on an issue for which there is no demand or urgency – reducing the age of eligibility for candidates for the Presidency of Ireland to 21.

The fact is that the disenfranchisement of Irish emigrants is tied up with the attitude of successive governments to the question of emigration.

The failure to curb emigration is one of the greatest failures of the Irish state and while its causes have been complex at times, the failure to act has been stark. We have long been happy to take the remittances of emigrants but unwilling to extend to them the full rights of citizenship.

There is always an excuse to avoid pointing to the fact that at the core of the emigration problem is a government failure, a political failure with serious long term social and economic costs.

That failure to tackle emigration, to recognise its consequences and to deal with the issue of emigrants votes has its roots in the conservative nature of the Irish state and the interest of that class that had established itself after partition.

Emigration was seen as a safety valve for a radicalism that might have threatened their interests – and it still is today.   That is why voting rights will not easily be given to or won by Irish emigrants.

Those who sought to maintain the status quo, to preserve the conservative state saw emigration as a way of ensuring the social pressure for change did not build up.

In his contribution to the 1950’s ‘Commission on Emigration and Other Population Problems’  Alexis Fitzgerald who would later become a Fine Gael senator and an advisor to Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald  stated “I believe that there should be a more realistic appreciation of the advantages of emigration. High emigration, granted a population excess, releases social tensions which would otherwise explode and makes possible a stability of manners and custom which would otherwise be the subject of radical change”.

Fitzgerald was of that class that had established a position of dominance post partition.   His views reflect what many who developed Government policy believed.   The fact was emigration was a class issue.

In 1987 Brian Lenihan Senior commented on the high rates of emigration of the 1980’s dismissively saying that “we cannot all live on a small island”. These sentiments were echoed again by politicians in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael when emigration returned following the 2008 economic collapse.

Those children born in the year that Brian Lenihan Snr made his comments were the first generation to grow up with no sense that they would be forced to emigrate.  The boom that started in the late 1990’s promised this generation a future in Ireland.  They were also the first generation to grow up in an Ireland of immigration.  They are amongst today’s generation of emigrants.

But they are also part of a new generation of emigrants fighting back – fighting to have a say in the future of their country through organisations such as We’re Coming Back  (Twitter: @WCBIreland) which are campaigning for voting rights for the Irish abroad.

The argument put forward by Irish governments for a failure to deliver on voting rights – that citizens abroad no longer have sufficient connections with their home country is laughable.

In fact as we know most Irish emigrants retain close connections with Ireland.

The current government claims it is committed to bringing Irish emigrants home.  But if they are serious about bringing emigrants home then they need to firstly give them a stake in their country by giving them a vote.

90 years of complacency towards the question of Irish emigration and the plight of Irish emigrants was summed up in the lines of Cricklewood by John B Keane: “Leave him down in Cricklewood mid mortars bricks and lime, Let him rot in Cricklewood until the end of time.”  This was effectively what Irish governments did for past generations of emigrants.

It’s time to drop the excuses, stop delaying and deliver on voting rights for Irish emigrants.


  • barnshee

    “!In 1987 Brian Lenihan Senior commented on the high rates of emigration of the 1980’s dismissively saying that “we cannot all live on a small island”. These sentiments were echoed again by politicians in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael when emigration returned following the 2008 economic collapse.”

    The truth may hurt it should not be “dismissed” just because it is true

  • aber1991

    The high rate of emigration is the result of the high birth rate.

    As for voting rights for emigrants, why should people be allowed to have power without responsibility? Why should a person living in Melbourne, London or Chicago be able to vote to increase taxes on people who live in Cork so that the government of Eire could spend more on the welfare of emigrants?

    The people of Eire need no excuse to refuse to extend voting rights to people not living in Eire.

  • chrisjones2

    The high rate of emigration is the result of the high birth rate

    That sounds like a DUP line!!!!!

  • sean treacy

    Emigrants have a history of not towing the establishment line and would not be trusted to vote for “the right sort of people” If emigrants had a vote in presidential election for instance, we most likely would have a SF president.

  • handelaar

    Minor point, but I don’t think we can say we’re “entering” Enda’s 40th year as a TD, given that 40th year began three months ago.

  • chrisjones2

    ….evidence? I love the assumption that those who have moved out of the cess pit cant wait to get back to vote for the absurd trampolining dog fancier

  • sean treacy

    Mr Jones,unlike you I actually know and knew the demographic who went to build London and I can tell you there were very few “west Brits” to be found on the “sites” or in the lodging houses of Kilburn and Cricklewood.I would hazard a guess the nearest that you ever came to manual labour was leaving out the bin or pruning the roses.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Cricklewood is quite nice actually. And very expensive. Peter O’Toole used to live there, and would still, were it not for the fact that he is dead.

  • barnshee

    Where is this Eire?

  • barnshee

    “Emigrants have a history of not towing the establishment line and would not be trusted to vote for “the right sort of people” If emigrants had a vote in presidential election for instance, we most likely would have a SF president.”

    What has that to do with ““we cannot all live on a small island”.?

  • Zig70

    Having lived in Seoul, I’d say there is loads of room.

  • barnshee

    The “cricklewood” generation (40 s 50 s 60 s) is now largely history -their grand children have move out and up they are no longer” immigrants but dyed in the wool tory labour etc.

    No representation without taxation?

  • Mister_Joe

    I emigrated from Ireland 34 years ago. When I did, I lost the right to vote there. I don’t have a problem with that. The only people who should be entitled to vote are those that pay taxes or are liable for tax if they pass the agreed threshold.

  • Cosmo

    Like indentured servants, US citizens living abroad have to pay their taxes back to the US regardless of where they are resident or their income is arising. With the ‘americanisation’ going on in Ireland…… you could just see this policy being pondered.

  • Old Mortality

    But it is the blunt truth. For nearly the whole of the last century, Ireland was a third-world country in social terms and without the safety valve of unlimited emigration to the UK it would have had living standards to match.
    They might like to blame the priests but the Catholic Church was trying to impose the same dogmas across western Europe with far less success.

  • barnshee

    “Having lived in Seoul, I’d say there is loads of room”.

    Not (if in the traditional irish manner ) they need a substantial property (4/5 bedroms)– convenient to their chosen urban area with some amenity land (say 12–20 acres)and space for 2/3 Beamers and or Mercs

    Oh and the associated income to support the above

    (Seoul me arse)

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Cosmo, yes indeed they do. And pay taxes where they are resident. And If you have a Green Card and leave the US after working there, same double taxation deal. And that’s just the begining.

    Recently FATCA, (the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) was passed:


    This drove a coach and four across discrete financial sovereignties, requiring banks to report on any of their clients with previous IRS filing. Nominally to catch the big fish who were avoiding tax, it has meant that across the world U.S, citizens, even those with very low earnings, are being turfed out of long held bank accounts by Banks who simply cannot afford to give the IRS free access to customer accounts! Or are now being expected to file blocks of IRS forms annually, at no little expense.

    Predictably, all of the G7 countries are signed up to the intergovernmental agreements to implement FATCA. The next stage is GATCA, a Global Tax automatic information exchange that will perhaps mean that any tax authority anywhere that feels it may have some claim on any one of us may be able to access bank and tax information in order to press taxation claims.

    And the implication for the rest of us? Such open access by government departments in other lands to banking and tax information will be a gift to hard working account hackers everywhere!

  • Reader

    I see that the campaign logo is a 32 county Ireland. Is it a 32 county campaign or is it a 26 county campaign just aimed at representation in the Dail?
    (My first attempt to post this vanished into the ether. Sorry if this turns out to be a duplicate)

  • barnshee

    Oh dear –not a good stance– you will be blaming people next

  • aber1991

    The Free State. The part of Ireland which is no longer part of the UK.
    And well you know it. Stop trying to be clever.

  • barnshee

    I thought EIRE refers to the whole island? No?

  • Croiteir

    Or indeed kill your children and rely on others to supply the workforce

  • Croiteir

    Don’t forget UKIP – republican descendants found there too

  • davitt

    The establishment stayed at home, feathered their nest by lending money to each other and slapping each other on the back, knowing that if it came down to it, if it went tits up incompetence and the fact that so many had their nose in the trough that no one would go to jail. The radical challenge was focused on the north or as you say voiceless as they were forced away on planes, trains and automobiles as economic refugees. Give them the vote and they will not be voting for the status quo.

  • Croiteir

    need we point out that there are more English on the dole in the south than Irish on the dole in Britain? Perhaps this emigration lark has little to do with high birth rates?

  • Old Mortality

    If that is true, which I doubt until shown convincing evidence, the only plausible explanation is that the dole is more generous in Ireland.
    Maybe you’re right: young Irish people use hard times as an excuse to flee the country without upsetting Mammy too much.

  • chrisjones2

    Depends who you ask

  • chrisjones2

    Well 40 years ago I too worked in the south east of England. Indeed, since them perhaps 25% of my working life has been spent there.

    And while the majority of Irish there in the 1970s were Catholics and not “west Brits” as you so abusively call them, so what.

    And they didn’t just work ‘on sites’ bit in offices factories on the buses in the City and in pubs as well. Many of them even had education and skills that took them lots of places and helped them make a major contribution to the economy and life of London and many other cities.

    As others have pointed out they and their children have now long integrated or returned to Ireland or moved on with their lives. Try it some time

    PS hes still an absurd trampolining dog fancier. no matter who votes for him

  • chrisjones2

    convenient to their chosen urban area …..and within 30 minutes drive of me mammy’s and the wife’s mammys

  • chrisjones2

    I think Cricklewood is a bit dowdy actually but much better than Kentish Town and many Irish suburbs

  • chrisjones2

    …yeah …and you try and enforce it