Diaspora Minister to present plan to Irish government within weeks. Suggests it could include educational grants for returning families
By Bernard Purcell
Ireland’s Diaspora Minister Ciarán Cannon is to introduce a strategic plan to reduce barriers for returning emigrants. He said he will introduce his plan after the economic consultancy Indecon delivers a specially commissioned report to the Irish Government next month.
Mr Cannon said he and his department are examining ways of making it easier for Irish emigrants to return to Ireland.
Between 2012 and 2016 at least 100,000 emigrants returned to Ireland, according to the most recent Irish Census.
Among the measures under consideration is “a unique grant” for returning Irish citizens, or their children, to study at Irish universities and colleges so they do not have to pay higher British, EU or international fees. Under EU rules, the Government cannot charge domestic fees to returning emigrants or their children without offering the same fees to returning emigrants or their children who are citizens of other EU states.
“A grant that will apply to them and them alone – that is something that we should explore,” said the Galway East TD just before Christmas.
Mr Cannon also said it is the Irish government’s plan that anyone with an Irish passport should be able to vote in Irish Presidential elections – assuming Irish voters approve it at referendum in June 2019.
The first opportunity to vote in such an election would be in 2025 and as many as 3.6 million Irish citizens outside the Republic – mainly in Britain and Northern Ireland but also across the world – would potentially be eligible to vote.
“If you are either an Irish citizen or have retained the right to be an Irish citizen, you will be entitled to vote no matter where you live in the world,” he said.
Mr Cannon said his own personal view – but not that of the Irish government – is that the franchise should go much further than just elections for Áras an Uachtaráin and should extend to general elections with Irish citizens abroad able to vote for their own TD.
He said he believed it is “absolutely critical” that emigrants’ voting rights referendum be passed and the Irish government should “at least explore the opportunity of moving beyond that” to Dáil representation.
“I would…argue that (Irish emigrants) need to have a voice in the Dáil,” he said adding that a diaspora constituency might be created to this end.
“In a world that is ever more connected, our sense of what it means to be Irish and what it means to be a nation of people has to extend beyond the confines of this little island on the edge of Europe.
“The advantages that would confer upon us as a people internationally would be immeasurable.
“There’s a whole new group of Irish young people abroad now,” he said. “They are highly qualified, highly motivated and working in exceptionally cutting edge industries around the world. They will be an incredible resource to us in the future.”
The Irish World’s view on the matter
The statement by Ireland’s Diaspora Minister Ciarán Cannon that a referendum on extending the vote for Presidential elections to Irish people overseas, is “a priority” and will be held in 2019, is welcome. So, too, is Mr Cannon’s view that Irish people overseas should have some franchise in Dáil elections. Welcome, even if, by now, it’s a tad over familiar.
One should always caution that this is not just mawkish seasonal sentimentality inspired by tearful Christmas reunions – and New Year’s departures – at Ireland’s airports and ferry ports. Not least because once the season passes a familiar begrudgery and hostility to the idea will surface in some quarters in Ireland.
We might also commend the minister to be a little more ambitious. By all means extend the voting franchise to Irish passport holders overseas. But examine, too, the prospect of those people making a regular financial contribution, by tax or fund, to their homeland.
Similarly make it possible for those people to contribute to – and benefit from, on return – Ireland’s social welfare system. A proper, two-way engagement between Ireland and its diaspora and those emigrants’ families.
After Brexit it’s going to get bigger.
Other modern democracies manage this, some are much larger than Ireland, others smaller. They all manage it.
The modest, symbolic extension of the Presidential vote – if successful – will not take effect until well into the next decade.
In the meantime anything Mr Cannon can do to remove the many perverse obstacles to normal working and daily life for returned emigrants – from driving insurance to PPS numbers – has to be welcomed as practical first steps.