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    Will Kenny nominate a diaspora senator?

    By Noreen Bowden | May 9, 2011

    There has been speculation that Taoiseach Enda Kenny might choose  a representative of the diaspora to serve in the Seanad. Reports say that he will be making the announcement of his chosen representatives this week, but he has so far made no comment on whether he was seriously considering the move.

    The speculation is partly driven by a call from Senator Darragh O’Brien to do so. Earlier this month, he said:

    “The global Irish community can play a significant role in Ireland’s economic recovery and should be given a national voice.  With 60 million people worldwide claiming Irish heritage and 40 million of those in the United States alone I think it is extremely important that the Taoiseach uses his upcoming appointments to the Seanad to nominate a representative of the Irish Diaspora.?

    “This is something Mr. Kenny himself has called for in the past and he is now in a unique position to deliver it.  Fianna Fáil will support such a nomination and I believe many people across all parties would also be supportive of the move.?

    This isn’t a new suggestion, but even this extremely modest form of political representation for emigrants has been a tough one for Irish politicians to take on. For example, the Seanad’s sub-committee on reform of the Seanad gave this rather lukewarm recommendation in their 2004 report:

    The Sub-Committee is therefore of the view that the Taoiseach, when selecting his nominees for the Seanad, should include people who can represent the interests and perspectives of both emigrants and immigrants.

    More importantly, Labour and Fine Gael, in their joint policy document, “Caring for the Irish Abroad?, published in 2006, said, “We support emigrant representation in Seanad Eireann for Irish communities overseas?. There is no corresponding commitment in their programme for government, however.

    The idea has been reported with some enthusiasm in the Irish press abroad. For example New York’s Irish Echo gave the idea a broad welcome, but suggested it might not go far enough:

    Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in New York this week, is poised to nominate 11 members of Seanad Eireann. It has been suggested that one of them be a representative from the diaspora. Kenny himself was proposing three Senate members representing the diaspora just a few years back so it will be interesting to see what happens.

    Just one seems like a bit of a back hand to the global Irish economy. None at all would be seen by some as a kick in the transom.

    The editorial asks who might be a likely candidate, then posits rather modestly,  “There are certainly a few possible contenders, one of them being the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform’s Ciaran Staunton.?

    In fact, the Irish Echo’s editor, Ray O’Hanlon, had been widely tipped back in 2006 and 2007 to be the first diaspora senator (as I wrote at the time). Back then, O’Hanlon had been in talks with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to be an agreed candidate to replace Fine Gael Senator Jim Higgins who was to step down because of his role as MEP. Senator Higgins had said at the time he would be willing to resign if there could be an agreed candidate representing the diaspora. The deal was hinging on an agreement from Fianna Fail not to contest the seat in a by-election. I don’t know precisely what scuppered the plan, but it all came to naught, and Ireland’s diaspora remains unrepresented to this day.

    Of course, the relevance of all this speculation may be rather short-lived, given the Government’s enthusiasm for abolishing the Seanad altogether. In any case, it’s disappointing to see how easy it is for Irish politicians to support diaspora representation when they are out of power, as Fine Gael/Labour did and Fianna Fail does now. Here’s hoping that the current Government will take the history-making first step toward incorporating diaspora voices into our political system.

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