DISCUSSING whether the Irish abroad should get the right to vote in Irish elections is “very very important”, according to President Higgins.
Speaking during his London visit, the President said he is glad the Constitutional Convention will consider ending the disenfranchisement of the Diaspora when it meets at the end of September.
But he stopped short of supporting the move to do so himself.
“When I use the phrase ‘President of all the Irish’ I really mean it,” he said. “I can well understand that they [members of the Diaspora] want to stay connected with decisions about Irishness.
“I do wish the Convention well and I wish (Convention chair) Tom Arnold well. And I look forward with great interest to what the Convention will produce.”
In the build-up to 2011’s Presidential election, the former Labour TD said Irish emigrants should retain voting rights for up to 10 years after leaving the country. But it remains unclear whether he believes all Irish citizens should be allowed to vote for the President – one topic that will be discussed by the Convention in September.
Asked by The Irish Post whether he himself would rather have received the endorsement of the Irish abroad when he was elected to the Áras an Uachtaráin, President Higgins said: “Well I very much welcome the support of the Irish abroad. I have stayed in contact with them and not just in Britain…
“I think it is very very important, it is good that the Convention is discussing it. It is good that Tom Arnold is discussing it with groups here in Britain.”
But, suggesting that voting is not the only way members of the Diaspora can maintain their Irishness, he added: “It is, I think, very important that we use the new technology so that we do not lose connection with people who are (abroad). Many of them want very much to come back to Ireland.
“But this I also say which is important, they do not cease being Irish if they are making their contribution in other economies and other societies.”
But Irish Minister Brian Hayes has drawn angry reactions online from Irish people around the world by saying the growth of social media has eliminated their need for a voice in Leinster House.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised that next month’s Seanad referendum threatens to ‘kill off’ the best chance that the Irish abroad have of gaining a say in Leinster House.