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    Social psychologist says emigrant vote issue won’t go away

    By Noreen Bowden | May 5, 2011

    A social psychologist has said that the changing nature of emigration means that Ireland is likely to come under increasing pressure to allow its emigrants to vote.

    Dr Marc Scully completed his PhD thesis, “Discourses of Authenticity and National Identity among the Irish Diaspora in England?, in the Open University’s Psychology Department last year. He spoke last week at the second annual Conference on Social Psychology in Ireland (C-SPI) in the University of Limerick.

    According to a UL press release, Dr Scully is now exploring how “his findings might apply to the emerging ‘third great wave’ of post-war emigrants now leaving for England and elsewhere.?

    He believes that the changing nature of emigration is enabling a shift toward bi-located lives:

    “There’s every indication that recent emigrants are, at least psychologically and in some cases practically, living in two countries simultaneously and are embracing this as an increasingly normal way of living.

    This will have implications for the political aspirations of the Irish abroad:

    Therefore, the calls for emigrant voting rights which were so prominent before the election are unlikely to go away, as advances in communications have allowed emigrants to continue to be part of the national conversation in ways that weren’t possible with previous generations – the emphasis placed on transnational knowledge and experiences by this cohort means that they will want to continue to have a say, and this will need to be addressed as an aspect of political reform.?

    This calls to mind a recent experience I had, in which I spoke on a radio show about issues of emigrant voting rights and emigration. Another of the show’s guests, a rep from the London Irish Centre, made the point that he was not in favour of emigrant voting rights, believing that people should vote in the location where they worked and spent their everyday realities. He went on to suggest that there were few things sadder than some of the older people he’d met who had spent decades in England but had never adjusted to the fact.

    I was a bit surprised by the way he connected the voting rights issue with the plight of disadvantaged Irish people who had been unable to settle in London and didn’t quite know how to respond. I’ve thought since that that was a particularly curious argument against emigrant voting rights: obviously the situation of 1950s and1960s-era emigrants caught in that kind of limbo between two cultures wasn’t caused by anything to do with emigrants having a vote – because, of course, they didn’t have a vote in Ireland then and still don’t now.

    I don’t believe that Official Ireland’s explicit rejection of its own citizens’ right to the most basic act of participation in their home country did anything to help Irish people integrate into the UK or elsewhere – and in fact, I believe that if emigrants had maintained the right to vote we wouldn’t have waited until 2002 for a Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants – which signalled a new attitude in our approach to the Irish abroad with the words: “We owe much to our emigrants?.

    The most vulnerable of our emigrants, who were enormously helpful to Ireland’s economic development when we needed them, were allowed to languish with little thought from our politicians until this century. They were far away, their remittances were useful, and our leaders were under little pressure to listen to either their needs or any nascent political aspirations among the Irish abroad.

    Things are different now. We need our Irish abroad as much as ever, but as countries all over the world seek to engage their expats not only economically but politically as well, we need to realise that we can’t expect the relationship to flourish if we’re not listening to them. We need to pay attention to Dr Scully’s assertion that the new kinds of transnational navigation being practiced by our young emigrants today will make them increasingly hard to ignore. We should be embracing this, and welcome this increased engagement as healthier for everyone.

    Related link:
    Marc Scully’s page on the Open University website.

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