THE IRISH abroad stand no chance of gaining a say in Leinster House if the Government succeeds in abolishing the Seanad, an independent Senator has claimed.
The abolition of Ireland’s upper house, currently proposed in reforms championed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, would ‘kill off’ any hope of extending Parliamentary voting rights to Irish people worldwide, Senator Professor John Crown told The Irish Post.
His claims were made as the controversial debate surrounding next month’s referendum on the Seanad’s future was taken up in London.
The Senator believes the Government’s ‘Yes to abolition’ campaign flies in the face of the debate being held simultaneously in Britain about letting the Irish vote in elections at home.
If the Seanad were abolished, the Irish abroad could only achieve a say in Ireland’s political landscape if they were given the right to vote in Dáil elections.
But Senator Crown claims there is “absolutely no political party” talking about allowing Ireland’s sprawling emigrant communities to vote for TDs.
“That would require a Constitutional change and I do not think that is going to happen,” he added.
The independent Senator, who was born to Irish emigrants in the US, has proposed a Bill in the Seanad that would give Irish citizens around the world the right to vote for senators.
“Ireland has a responsibility to give the Irish abroad a voice in the Oireachtas,” he said.
“I think if we go to the trouble of saying these people are eligible to hold our passport, they should also be eligible to vote in some part of our elections.”
The Senator made his thoughts clear at a debate about the future of the Seanad, organised by the London Irish Lawyers Association (LILA) and the NUI Club London, earlier this month.
LILA Chairman Patrick Harte said the decision to hold a debate had been taken because “an ever-increasing number of disenfranchised but politically aware” Irish people are coming to London.
“Part of the argument for Seanad retention is reform, with focus often on the provision of a Diaspora voice,” he added.
“The question of whether such reform would be preferable to some other form of increased suffrage is one which greatly interests the Irish in Britain.”
The Irish Government will hold a referendum on the Seanad’s abolition on October 4. But because of Ireland’s long-standing voting laws, the Irish abroad will not be able to take part.
Launching Fine Gael’s ‘Yes to abolition’ campaign, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Ireland does not need a “powerless, elitist” upper house.
Fine Gael has released an information booklet stating that the Seanad is elected by “only one per cent of the Irish population” and last used its main power to delay legislation in 1964.
Critics say the public is being denied the chance to vote for reforming the Seanad, as the referendum will only present voters with the options of abolishing it entirely or retaining it in its current form.
Expressing his support for retaining and reforming the Seanad to give voting rights to the Irish abroad, Professor Crown said: “I think this is a question of justice.
“I think people who love their country, who were born and educated in their country and were forced to leave their country should not necessarily lose the right to vote in the country if they leave.
“They left often not voluntarily or on some whim of adventurism, but because decisions made by the leaders of the country necessitated their emigration.”
Well-known senator David Norris has also spoken up for retaining the upper house to give the Irish abroad a say in the Oireachtas.
“The Government’s plan to abolish the Seanad is a smash and grab raid for naked power,” he says writing in this week’s Irish Post.
The comments follow claims from Irish minister Brian Hayes that the growth of social media has eliminated the need for the Irish abroad to have a voice in Leinster House.
The Irish Post revealed this week that an overwhelming majority of people in Ireland are in favour of letting Irish emigrants vote in Presidential and Dáil elections from abroad.