Leo Varadkar , the south’s Transport Minister, is generally regarded as seriously right-wing. So I’m not sure what he was thinking of when he told journalists that he was in favour of votes for the Irish diaspora. “I like the idea of the President being the President of the Irish people and the Irish nation. We would like to extend voting rights to all Irish citizens”.
He then added two highly significant points. “I would favour it for people who are only out of the country for a short period of time - maybe say they’re gone a year or two, But I don’t think people who are gone a long time should vote for our parliament.”
What nice Leo is saying is that the diaspora vote would have to have boundaries - you couldn’t have some paddy who’d arrived in New York circa 1957 lining up to vote in an Irish election in a couple of years' time. The second and more significant point here is that he’s talking not just about the presidential election but elections to the Dail.
“So what?” you may say. “I’m not part of the diaspora - I live in the north”. Yes indeed. And can you see a circumstance where emigrants are allowed to vote for the President while people from the north are not? Unsustainable - totally unsustainable. Not even a Sindo columnist could twist that one into something credible. And supposing those of us in the north had a vote in the last Presidential election: you don’t think that would have affected the outcome? For a start, all those people in the north who vote Sinn Féin would almost certainly have thrown their weight behind Martin McGuinness. That’s a lot of votes and a lot of weights.
Then there’s the unionist factor (which Leo diplomatically doesn’t mention either). Had people in the north been allowed to vote for who should be President of Ireland, would they have abstained with disdain? Or would they have voted to make sure that McGuinness didn’t get the job? Alternatively, would they have voted so he did get the job, since it’s generally acknowledged that McGuinness is one of the most popular politicians in the north, and not just among republicans.
And finally, supposing Leo’s dream became reality and “all Irish citizens” had a vote for Dail Eireann. Would that swell or diminish the ranks of Sinn Féin in the Dail? I think you know the answer to that one. But even more intriguing is, what would unionists do? At first glance, you might think they’d declare they didn’t vote in foreign elections and ignore the whole thing. Maybe better take a second glance. The kind of government south of the border has always been important for the north, whether it’s tourism or ‘terrorism’ that’s at issue. There’d be several good reasons why unionists should cast a vote that would make the complexion of the Dail closer to their taste. On the other hand, that would mean unionists when they voted for the Dail were part of an all-Ireland electorate. Which would leave one big question: whither Stormont?
I wonder if Leo knows how big is the an of worms he’s just unzipped? You know, the odd thing is I think he does.