Are Irish Voters Sheep?

Or Dogs? When I first heard about the recommendations issued by the Constitutional Convention last weekend I thought I misheard. So I listened more attentively. Then I thought these guardians of Ireland’s most fundamental rights must be having a laugh. But no, they are serious. They want to give the vote to ex-pats. But not the real vote. Thus they are effectively acting like a person throwing a plastic chew-bone to a starving dog … it’ll keep the canine occupied for a while, but not alleviate the hunger. They must be thinking that the voters are as easily led as lambs to the slaughter …

At the end of a two-day session, described as a “powerful weekend”, the outcome was hailed as nothing but spectacular. “This is an incredibly important issue that is hugely relevant to thousands of Irish citizens living all over the world,” said Tom Arnold, chairman of the Constitutional Convention. Never was it more appropriate to point out that he shares a name with a well-known comedian. Because the important issue of huge relevance that crowned the powerful weekend was the suggestion … to let ex-pats vote in the presidential election.

In short – throw the ex-pats a chewing bone by giving them a vote in the most unimportant election of all.

Losing your vote in Ireland is easy – you are either at home on voting day or you don’t vote. Mid-week elections regularly cost thousands of students the vote, anybody having a holiday or simply a weekend away will not be counted and those forced to work away from home, be it in the Australian outback or Dublin, will either have to travel back to vote or forget the idea that his (or her) opinion is relevant.

As a German I am astonished … we have a system called “Briefwahl”, literally “letter vote”. You simply register in advance that you will not be able to make it to the polling station, the government then sends you a voting sheet and an envelope, you cast your vote and post your vote off. Even after living donkeys’ years on the emerald isle I still have a vote in Germany. Because I am a. German and b. entitled to vote. Sort of a basic of democracy, I should think.

But not in Ireland … not at home, no vote.

Mainly due to the complicated and parish-pump-oriented system of elections here. Without going into too much detail it is based on local politicians, not on parties. The only election where a nation-wide ballot is cast … is the presidential election. Which, effectively, elects the totally unimportant figurehead of the nation. So giving the ex-pats the vote here won’t really have an effect on politics. It might, however, favour the lunatic fringe.

Could a “Briefwahl” be implemented in Ireland? There is no reason why not – if you are registered to vote in a constituency, it does not make any difference whether you vote in person or by mail.

Could Irish ex-pats have a real vote instead of the suggested placebo? Only with a bit of reform.

It would be easy to set up a “virtual constituency” where each party could place a candidate and where one or two TDs are elected as representatives of the ex-pats. You would have no independent candidates here (They only succeed at a local level anyway – who in Dublin would vote for the Healy-Raes?), but it would be a good indicator how the ex-pats feel.

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