A new website, launched tomorrow, Tuesday 8 February, will allow Irish emigrants to cast a symbolic vote in the Election 2011.
Ballotbox.ie will open for voting from Tuesday 15 February and will remain open until Tuesday 22 February. It will feature a full list of constituencies and candidates.
The aim of the website is to highlight how emigrants are immediately disenfranchised once they leave Ireland. This is in stark contrast to 115 other countries, including Australia, Canada, the UK and most other EU countries which grant voting rights to citizens who reside outside the country.
An estimated 3.1 million Irish passport holders live abroad, with 800,000 being Irish-born. Nearly 28,000 citizens left Ireland in the year ending April 2010, and at least 60,000 have left in the last three years. With very few exceptions, Irish law prevents them from casting a vote.
Set up by young Irish emigrants and implemented by a volunteer staff in Dublin, BallotBox.ie gives these people a voice. Voting will be based on the Irish single transferrable vote - proportional representation system. Through the use of IP technology, participation will be restricted to those living outside Ireland. The site aims to use both email and SMS technology to discourage multiple voting. The results will be released shortly before the general election.
Welcoming the launch of Ballotbox.ie, Niall O'Dowd, founder of the Irish Voice newspaper in the US and prominent figure in the Northern Irish peace process, said:
"I believe that Irish citizens abroad, like those of all other EU countries, should be afforded the right to vote. Those same emigrants have been deeply impacted in their life decisions by the policies Irish politicians and governments have pursued. They are entitled to make their views known too. I welcome the launch of Ballotbox.ie and hope it raises awareness of this important issue."
In 2009, Independent TD Finian McGrath asked then Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin "if he will support the campaign on votes for Irish emigrants in view of the fact that 115 countries already support this view; and if he will use this initiative to support the economy here".
Micheál Martin replied:
My colleague, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government has primary responsibility for the various legislative codes dealing with the registration of electors and the conduct of elections and referendums. Policy regarding votes for non residents is dealt with by the Franchise section of that Department.
The question of voting rights for Irish citizens living abroad was most recently considered in 2002, by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. In relation to emigrant participation in political life, the Committee concluded that the right to vote in Oireachtas elections should remain confined to citizens ordinarily resident in the State.
However the renewed Programme for Government, agreed in October 2009, mandates that recommendations should be made on the feasibility of extending the franchise for Presidential Elections to the Irish abroad. It will be the responsibility of the Department of Environment to progress this issue.
The Government attaches a high priority to the interests of Irish emigrants. Under my Department’s Emigrant Support Programme, over €60m has been allocated to Irish welfare, culture and heritage organisations abroad over the past five years. A further €12m has been allocated to the Programme for 2010, which will allow us to continue to maintain and strengthen links with Irish communities abroad.