Ireland's diaspora - the forgotten constituency?

Irish citizens abroad would be the largest constituency if allowed vote, but continue to fight for the right

If Ireland's emigrants were a constituency they would dwarf all others come general election time, with one in six (17.5%) Irish born people now living abroad.

And yet, there remains scant regard for this massive cohort when it comes to campaign time.

No nation in the OECD has a higher proportion of its citizens living abroad – and yet few nations offer their wandering citizens less involvement in home affairs.

Following the wave of emigration in the past decade there have been renewed, stronger calls for policies to keep the Diaspora engaged, and help emigrants return home to work.

So who is offering what to Ireland’s diaspora?

Voting rights

Perhaps the most pressing matter for many emigrants is the right to vote from abroad, and to not lose their legal right to vote after 18 months living abroad.

In 2015 the OECD and the European Commission both criticised Ireland’s treatment of emigrants’ voting rights, as we remain one of the few nations not allowing voting rights from citizens living abroad.

However, despite the repeated on this issue the parties offer little solace to the diaspora with promises only to review the right to vote in presidential elections.

Fine Gael

Fine Gael are planning to hold a referendum to allow emigrants to vote in presidential elections, saynig in ther manifesto: “We will fully explore the matter of voting rights for Irish citizens resident outside the State, with a view to holding a referendum on giving them the right to vote in presidential elections."

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáíl say in their manifesto that they are “committed to proposing to the people the expansion of voting rights for Irish citizens resident abroad, including Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, to Presidential elections.”

The party are also “committed to retaining the position of Minister of State for the Diaspora,” they say.

Labour

Labour offer more than their coalition partners, with a clear commitment to looking into extend voting rights to emigrants to five years after leaving Ireland.

Sinn Féin

Going the furthest of all the major parties, Sinn Féin have said they will also hold a referendum on voting rights – but with the vote concerned with extending voting rights to citizens in the North and the diaspora.

Attracting emigrants home

Talk of a recovery is often backed up by stories of returning economic emigrants – with their journeys home a handy metaphor for Irish economic revival.

But returning home after several years abroad means far more than finding a job – there are an array of issues, from enrolling children is schools, to buying a home in the current market and transferring credit history from their previous home – that act as potential roadblocks for emigrants.

Do the major parties have any specific plans for attracting emigrants home?

Fine Gael

Fine Gael vow to implement economic policies that will see “70,000 Irish emigrants returning home to work.”

“We will continue the #HomeToWork campaign. We will build on the recommendations of the inaugural Global Irish Civic Forum to further identify and address the needs of emigrants wishing to return home to Ireland," the manifesto reads.

Part of this strategy includes working closely “with Irish business networks around the world, providing important mentoring and networking opportunities for Irish people overseas.”

The status of undocumented Irish in the US and advocating for immigration reform in the United States “will remain a priority,” the party says.

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil make little specific mention of policies amed at attracitng people home, rather framing their overall plans for recovery as ones that will make Ireland more attractive to returning emigrants.

Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin aim to tempt Irish citizens abroad to return by offering rural resettlement schemes, with a payment of €5000, plus return flights, for families who wish to return from abroad to rural Ireland.

Labour

While making specific mention of attracting GPs home – as part of a broader strategy to fill the gap of some 1,426 full-time GPs the HSE estimates are needed in Ireland over the next five years.

There is no specific policy making reference to the diaspora, with the term diaspora only appearing in the manifesto once, and then it is in relation to the Polish diaspora living in Ireland.

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