It’s time for the wider Irish nation to be able to choose our President

It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. that is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage

Article 2 of the Irish Constitution

Well it looks like the referendum campaign to change how the President of Ireland is elected is going to get underway.

The drive for this came from a Constitutional convention in 2013 which noted the following;

The result of the ballot was that a clear majority of Convention members favoured a change to the Constitution to give citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in presidential elections.

This decision was arrived at over two days of deliberation and hearing evidence from experts in this field from legal analysts to academics. The end result saw 78% of participants supporting the idea that the franchise for the presidency be extended.

Let’s start with “no taxation without representation”

Dr Iseult Honahan from UCD looks at some the arguments about this principle

Apart from difficulties in deciding what kind of contribution is sufficient to warrant a vote on this basis, there is a more fundamental problem with the ‘contribution’ principle: it excludes older people and those with disabilities, who may be unable to contribute economically, but who are clearly members of the political community who deserve political rights. Conversely, non-citizens in other countries may make large investments or charitable donations in a country, but in general it is not thought that all these should have the right to vote and determine policies there. Thus a contribution principle is both under-inclusive and over-inclusive in defining the demos.

What about “If we allow Northerners to vote they’ll lumber us with Gerry Adams” well not to point out the obvious that whilst Sinn Fein do poll around 22-27% of the vote in Northern Ireland, huge numbers opt for other parties but Dr John Garry from Queens University found the following in his research;

The results reported in Table 1 suggest that almost all Northern Ireland citizens who are likely to vote have a clear opinion on Sinn Féin. Only one percent indicated that they did not know how likely they were to support the party. Exactly half indicated that they were very unlikely to ever support the party, one fifth were fairly unlikely and almost three out of 10 indicated that they were likely (i.e. between 6 and 10 on the 10-point scale). The responses to the Republic of Ireland parties indicate that Northern Ireland citizens do not distinguish terribly much between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour.

As for whether Ireland is ready for a DUP President, I think before this charge gets legs we should point out that they’re a monarchist party. Deeply wedded to the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, plus they take a dim view on absentionism so you won’t have to worry about President Sammy Wilson pulling a no show at the 1916 commemorations. At this stage you’re more likely to see a credible bid from someone like Naomi Long, rather than the DUP.  Just while I am on this topic of politicians from the North, can I remind the nay sayers that while we do have some people here whom I’d rather forget we are also the part of this island that produced, Austin Currie, John Hume, Gerry Fitt, Mary McAleese, David Trimble, Bernadette Devlin and I could go on.

We do have our shouters, but also bat very deep when it comes to our political class. Some of whom like Mary McAleese, who was derided in 1997 as a “tribal time bomb” and questions about whether she was ready to lead a country, turns out she was ready and served for 14 years as an excellent president.

It’s time for this reform. Those who want to scare you about being swamped by ideological Northerners on the one hand and millions of diaspora coming out of the woodwork to choose the next President are just hyping up fear. Nobody is looking to vote for the Dail, this is specifically about the President and who can vote for the holder of that office. It’s worth reminding  people that you still need the support of elected representatives in the Dail and county councils to get on the ballot.

We have an opportunity to have a real conversation about the kind of republic we want to be. The what the President represents. They are our standard bearer to the world. At so many points in our history the holder of that office has been a critical voice. Devalera represented stability at a time of crisis within the Irish government during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Patrick Hillery was a constant during the numerous stop/start governments of the 1980s. Mary Robinson represented the new departure in Ireland that coming throughout the 1990s & Mary McAleese was the bridge builder who embodied the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

All people like me are asking for is a chance to have a say. Those no campaigners who say the office is a special part of our republic, i couldn’t agree more. Those of us campaigning for this change feel a special connection and want to be part of this great institution. At a time when outside forces are trying to erect more barriers on this island and do more to keep us apart, what a powerful message it would send that on this island we are still reaching out our hands to stay together as one nation. Our next President will have to face these important issues, like the men and women who came before them. I do not seek this vote for a radical change in direction, I seek it because of my pride in what is already there and a desire to be part of it.

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