Seo alt a bhí agam sa Sunday Independent inniu faoi cheist na criochdheighilte agus moladh uaim maidir le céim i dtreo reitigh.
As Dana so memorably put it, ‘a little girl from the wee North’ won the All Ireland Talent Show a week ago. Soccer players from throughout the Six Counties are being poached to play for the Republic on an ongoing basis while Belfast born Mary McAleese is the incumbent President of Ireland and is scheduled to leave Aras an Uachtaráin after a fourteen year residency next year.
All this signifies a dilution of the age-old partitionist mentality with which Southerners are afflicted and which is so beloved of Sinn Féin. After all where would that party be without partition and partitionism?
Unionists, perhaps rightly, fear the Dublin government having too much of a say in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland – but what if the boot were on the other foot?
Would they be worried if they and their fellow Northern Irelanders in the nationalist community had a say in the election for President of Ireland?
The question arises from a proposal in Fine Gael’s ‘New Politics’ document which proposes a radical reform of the political system. Not a bad thing in itself, that an overhaul of the machinery of the state and the rules which govern us is badly needed qualifies as an understatement but then again it depends on the proposed reforms.
One of the FG proposal would give Irish people living abroad a vote in the Presidential election for up to five years after the’ve left the ‘shamrock shore’.
This proposal appears to be aimed at the young Irish who, in the words of Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, go overseas to enjoy themselves, or in search of work or other adventures. The presumption is that these people will come back sooner or later and the extension of the franchise to them is intended as a signal that we want them back.
The proposal is an acknowledgement that ‘our out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to our exiles in the past wasn’t the best way of maintaining the link between those who left and those who were left.
But the report in the Irish Times last weekend was silent on one aspect of this issue. If we’re prepared to allow the Irish who emigrate to far distant shores to vote, then surely we will allow those who live as our neighbours on this island to have a say? The question was neither addressed nor answered in the newspaper report.
If it were in the FG document, I’m sure it would have been mentioned in the Paper of Record. The very notion of northerners having a vote in southern elections is so unthinkable to many in southern Irish society that it was for this reason, I assumed, it wasn’t included in the report.
There’s a clear ‘us and them’ division on the island of Ireland. As much as we love the people from the ‘wee north’, and we’d give them a vote in a talent contest or the ‘shirt off our backs’, can we make a bit of space for them in this small if symbolic way?
Back in 1998, we voted in overwhelming numbers in an all Ireland vote for the Good Friday Agreement. Down south we thought we were voting for the abolition of Articles 2 and 3 which claimed jurisdiction over the north – but there was a lot more to it than that.
The Agreement guaranteed the option of Irish citizenship – and British nationality – to the inhabitants of the north. It’s this very provision which allows the FAI to identify talented young footballers from the north and to approach these players to see whether they will line out for Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad. The Northern soccer administration is incensed by what it sees as our poaching of their best prospects and they have a right to be. All the same, these young players want to play for the Republic in preference to the Northern Ireland team. The experience of Neil Lennon, one time captain of Northern Ireland and Celtic legend, bears this out. He called for an all Ireland soccer team, along the lines of our Grand slam winning all Ireland rugby champions – and received death threats from loyalists for his troubles.
So we’re in favour of peace and mutual understanding north of the border – but when it comes to living up to the ideals of the Good Friday Agreement in practical terms, we come up short down south.
The Fine Gael proposal on allowing emigrants the vote, albeit for a limited time, opens the door for a debate on this issue. Let’s have it.
As it stands, the FG proposal creates a third class of Irish citizens. The first class is the Irish citizen of voting age who lives in the 26 counties who has a vote in every election. In the second class catergory comes the Irish citizen who is working ‘or enjoying him or herself’ abroad for five years or less who has a vote in Presidential elections on the home sod And the third is the Irish citizen who lives in the north who, despite holding an Irish passport in which the Minister for Foreign Affairs asks foreign governments to respect the holder of the travel document, has no vote of any description.
This may have seemed like a good idea when Enda and his colleagues sat around to compile this document. When this proposal was discussed, did anyone ask, to quote Michael McDowell in last Sunday’s Independent: “”hold on a minute, Enda, what do you actually mean by this?”.