MICHAEL D. HIGGINS HIGHLIGHTS VOICE OF EMIGRANTS
RESPONDS TO BALLOTBOX CALL FOR EMIGRANT VOTE
I have always stressed during my 40 years as a public representative that there should not be a ‘Forgotten Irish’. Our emigrants over so many years should be acknowledged at home for the contribution they have made across so many countries and the support they so faithfully gave to those at home. This is why almost every year I have travelled to London to meet with the Irish in Cricklewood and Camden.
This year, when I travelled to London, I also met with many younger people – a new generation of Irish who find themselves travelling to different parts of the world in search of employment or opportunity and who are very often making a powerful mark on their new homes.
The Ballotbox.ie initiative shows the desire of these recent Irish emigrants to have a say in the Irish electoral process and help shape the direction of a country that many hope to return to.
The vision I am offering for Ireland is built on inclusive citizenship, where everyone participates and is respected, in a creative society, opening up new possibilities in every area of life from science to communications, as part of a real republic that makes us proud to be Irish in the world.
I come from a family where emigration was an economic necessity. My aunt and uncle on my father’s side are buried in Australia, two sisters emigrated to Manchester, and I still have extensive family connections in that city. More recently many of my nieces and nephews have emigrated to make new lives in Sydney,London and New York.
As for myself, I was the first member of my family to go to university and after that opportunity, I also experienced relocation for a time when I studied and worked in Manchester and in Indiana (USA).
My story very much enables me to understand the story of many of the recent emigrants who have been forced to emigrate. I believe Ireland has a leading role to play on the world stage and if elected President of Ireland, I will strengthen every strand of our international reputation, from culture and the arts to business innovation to humanitarian and peacekeeping work to the contributions made by the Irish in so many countries. I will highlight the best of our tradition and the spark of innovation, mindful of the fact that Ireland’s reputation has, sadly, been tarnished by the failed economic and social models of recent years.
I believe we need to build a whole new relationship with our Diaspora – a relationship which will, in effect, replace the earlier concept of emigrants’ remittances with a new model of support which contributes directly to the welfare of the Irish abroad, but also to the social, economic and cultural development of Ireland itself, that is built on solidarity and a shared sense of Irishness.
The whole issue of emigration and Diaspora rights currently merits review in the context of the new wave of emigration from Ireland. A new generation, including many of my own family, are sadly leaving to begin new lives and careers in the UK,Australia, and Canada or in emerging economies such as India and China.
I believe that if Irish people are again finding themselves travelling abroad, it is best that they try to do so with as full a heart as possible and positive expectations of the world. Despite the wrench that emigration can represent for families across Ireland- those who leave must not feel they are going in defeat, with feelings of loneliness, but should instead be equipped with hope, connections and practical supports.
One issue which has been raised before relates to proposals around electoral enfranchisement for the Irish abroad. In this regard the Constitutional Convention – a major review of our constitution which is taking place next year, on that document’s 75th anniversary, could prove significant. This review will be an opportunity for recent Irish emigrants to make their case for electoral inclusion. Proposals I have heard include the idea that those who were on the electoral register, or would be entitled to be on it, should be able to retain the right to vote in some or all of our elections for a specified period, perhaps five years. Although as President I would not be able to take a position on a specific proposal I do think this is worthy of consideration – particularly bearing in mind that technological changes seem to have addressed previous concerns around the compilation and maintenance of an electoral register of Irish citizens abroad.
As candidate for President, I cannot and will not attempt to be prescriptive in or pre-empt the discussion and outcomes of our important constitutional review. However I very much look forward to hearing its recommendations on this issue and being supportive of anything that deepens meaningful involvement of the Irish abroad in the life of our nation.
I want to encourage belief in ourselves at home, and a pride in being Irish in the world. We need to draw on our much strength and demonstrate our belief in the people ofIrelandand the Irish Diaspora throughout the world.
This country is full of talented, creative and generous people and we need to harness those attributes, abilities, skills to create a positive roadmap towards our shared futures. I offer leadership and vision as President, and will work with all our citizens, to make all Ireland’s voice resonate across the world.