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  • Emigrant services cut to be debated in Seanad

    Thursday, January 28th, 2010

    The 14% cut in emigrant services announced in the December’s budget will be the subject of a Seanad debate, after being raised by the Labour Party’s Spokesperson on Community Affairs, Senator Dominic Hannigan.

    The cut in emigrant services was unfortunate in light of the sharply increased need for additional services. With emigration rising, there is surely more need than ever before for the kinds of information services and social supports made possible by the funding provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is disturbing to see the reversal of the increases which have done so much in recent years to alleviate the situation of the most vulnerable of our citizens abroad.

    It is particularly disturbing to realise that these cuts have gone even beyond what was called for in the McCarthy report. The McCarthy report called for cuts of 7%, or 2 million euro.  In 2008, the Irish government contributed €15m to Irish groups mostly in Britain and the US, but also in Canada, South Africa, Argentina, China and Australia.

    Speaking about the cuts, Senator Hannigan said yesterday:

    “I know there is disappointment in emigrant communities about the proposed 14 per cent reduction in support funding. This is greater than the cut proposed by An Bord Snip Nua and very disappointing. It will mean that without a doubt, services will suffer. Already there has been an increase in the incidence of dementia among older Irish people living in the United Kingdom and also an increase in the number of Irish people being made homeless.

    “The majority of the funding from the Emigrant Support Programme goes to welfare and advisory groups who deal with those at the front line of poverty. These people are often marginalised in the new community they moved to because of a lack of opportunity at home.

    “These cuts will mean reduction in funding support for cultural centres, places in which first, second and third generation Irish learn about their heritage and culture. It is very important that we support Irish citizens who had to leave these shores to seek a better future abroad.”

    The date for the debate has not yet been released.

    Related sites:

    Former head of Task Force on Emigrants dies

    Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

    Paddy O’Hanlon, who headed the task force on policies regarding emigrants, has died at 65 following a short illness.

    Paddy O’Hanlon became one of the founding members of the SDLP after being elected to Stormont in 1969; he left politics in the 1980s to become a barrister. O’Hanlon was appointed in 2001 to head the emigrant task force by then-MInister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen.

    The task force was highly influential in prompting a new relationship between Ireland and the Irish abroad. Subsequent actions by the government included the establishment of the Irish Abroad Unit and increased spending on emigrant welfare.

    For more information:

    US news report highlights disillusionment of returned emigrants

    Monday, March 9th, 2009

    The disillusionment of Irish emigrants who moved back home to take part in Ireland’s booming economy has been featured in on the CBS Evening News in the US.

    The three emigrants profiled include Brendan Landers, who wrote of his disappointment after returning from Canada in the Irish Times last month. He said that his website got over 7,000 hits after the article appeared. Of his fellow returned emigrants, he said, “what they’d been feeling is basically a disappointment with our country”.

    Ed Neale returned from Holland, where he was studying architecture, but returned to find the jobs had dried up. “It was really a blip in the nation’s history,” he said. “You know, we are traditionally a very poor country. We’re a nation of emigrants and those times are coming back.”

    Marina Giblin gave up her job in banking in San Francisco to raise her four-year-old daughter near family in Dublin. “The reality of it is we partied very hard and we forgot there would be a hangover.” When asked if she’d leave again, Giblin replied, “If I have to go, I’ll go. Yeah, I will.”

    Watch the video:

    See more on the CBS news website.

    Car hire hikes affect emigrants home for holidays

    Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

    Car rental companies have once again come under criticism for doubling and trebling their rates over the Christmas holidays, in a move that disproportionately affects emigrants returning home to visit relations.

    The Irish Independent reports that most firms are at least doubling their early December rates for Christmas week. The largest hikes are for small economy-class cars. The worst examples cited by the newspaper were the prices of renting a Ford Fiesta from Budget Car Rental, which costs €69 a week in early December, up to €216 for Christmas week – a 213% increase.

    The Labour spokesperson on consumer affairs, Senator Brendan Ryan, said

    At a time when we should be doing everything we can to attract visitors to Ireland, we have car-hire companies engaging in this kind of gouging. This is profiteering plain and simple. Not only do these practices make it more expensive for tourists to visit Ireland, they also make it expensive for family members who may be returning to Ireland from abroad.

    Senator Ryan suggested that customers could save money by booking though the internet using American branches of international hire firms.

    Related articles:
    Irish Independent: “Car-hire firms accused of festive rip-off as prices soar”.

    Voting rights article featured on

    Monday, February 11th, 2008 is carrying an article from Ean on its website, on the issue of emigrant voting rights. The article notes that many immigrant groups are now able to vote in their home countries from Ireland, a fact that is reported positively in the Irish media. It contains an overview of the diverse ways in which the over 100 nations that allow emigrant voting have managed the issue, and discusses the effect of the likely move toward Seanad reform on the number of Irish people who will have some say from abroad.

    Here is the text of the article.

    Expat voting, global style

    By Noreen Bowden

    There was intense media interest in Ireland this week over the Super Tuesday vote in the US. The excitement was evident in the amount of media coverage afforded those Irish residents who cast their ballots as part of the Democrats Abroad primary election. More than 250 American citizens showed up to vote in Dublin at O’Neill’s pub, as for the first time ever the Democratic party was sending delegates from abroad to the convention. In essence, we were being treated as the “fifty-first state”.

    As someone who was delighted to join the pub crowd in casting my ballot on Tuesday, I noted the fact that there was no negative commentary from Irish observers about the fact that we were exercising our rights to an emigrant vote – a topic which has been highly controversial in Ireland. In asking a few of the journalists and students who had come to observe the situation, most of them conceded they hadn’t made the connection between Americans voting from Ireland and the fact that Irish people don’t similarly get to vote once they have left the country. We in Ireland have come to accept it as a matter of course that immigrants here have a say in their home elections – in recent months, it’s not just the Americans who have been voting, but also the Poles and the French. The votes of all three have been widely covered by the Irish media – and I have yet to see any critical coverage or suggestion that these emigrant voters were in any way damaging to their home nations.

    Currently, there are around 115 countries and territories – including nearly all developed nations – that have systems in place to allow their emigrants to vote. And the number is growing. Even countries with very high rates of emigration, such as Italy, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico have recently allowed their expats to vote.

    Ireland is in a highly unusual situation in our increasingly globalised world, in not allowing the majority of its overseas citizens any say in the political process. Members of the armed forces and the diplomatic services are able to vote in Dail elections, while only NUI and Trinity graduates can vote in the Seanad. There is no law to prevent emigrants from voting; there is simply no law to facilitate it.

    Many people within Ireland are at first leery of allowing emigrants to vote, pointing out that, with such a high number of emigrants abroad, Ireland would be overwhelmed. Others point to Ireland’s system of proportional representation, and suggest that elections in close constituencies could be held up waiting for a box of votes to arrive from Boston or Berlin.

    Still others, in an odd inversion of the eighteenth century’s American Revolutionary rallying cry for democracy, proclaim, “No representation without taxation” – an argument seriously undermined by the fact that no other nation seems to link expat voting with expat taxation. In fact, the US(which does not explicitly link the two) is the only developed nation that requires its citizens abroad to pay taxes on money earned abroad, and even then the only people affected are those making over $85,000.

    Some suggest that Irish people abroad quickly lose touch with the country, and can’t stay informed enough to vote responsibly. This argument will no doubt seem nonsensical to anyone who has been reading the Irish Emigrant for any part of the last twenty-one years. Plus, we don’t require voters within the country to pass a current events test, so how do we know that our voters at home have been brushing up on the issues?

    The fact is that there is a wide variety of solutions for the emigrant voting conundrum, and every country has dealt with the issue in a different way. It’s not an all or nothing proposition. While a 2006 study found that 65 countries allowed external voting for all, 26 countries placed restrictions on which of their expats could vote, making the right conditional on the length of time they have been away, their intent to return, or their location. A few countries disqualify citizens from voting after a certain period of time – the UK allows expats to vote only for the first 15 years away, for example.

    Some nations restrict voting to only certain types of elections – the most commonly allowed voting is for national and presidential elections. It is less common to allow emigrants to cast their ballots in local and regional elections, or for referendums.

    Most nations require that their emigrants vote in the last constituency where they lived, while others vote for specific emigrant representatives. Nine countries, including France, Italy and Portugal, reserve seats in their parliaments for those abroad.

    The forms of voting are also diverse – some require voters to do so in person, at either consulates or embassies or by returning home to cast the ballot; others allow voting by mail or fax, a handful by proxy, and some by a combination of the above methods.

    It may be time for Ireland to begin examining the diversity of compromises and solutions that other nations have arrived at. Ironically, the fact that emigrant numbers are declining may make the idea of an emigrant vote more possible, as voters at home will be less threatened by a smaller number of emigrants, and as the nature of emigration becomes increasingly more of a temporary phenomenon. These decreased numbers will be one of a number of factors eroding the level of opposition to emigrant voting.

    In addition, the prospect of Seanad Reform is in view again, and the most likely outcome appears to be the extension of the right to vote by all third-level graduates, not just Trinity and NUI graduates. Presumably, reformers will continue to allow those third-level graduate Seanad voters to vote whether they are at home or abroad. This will greatly increase the number of emigrants who can vote – but the long-term effect may be even greater. Authorities will have to come up with a national system that will allow them to register voters from abroad, and to decide on how an overseas election will work. In doing so they will be setting up the structures that could pave the way for more widespread emigrant voting in the future.

    Noreen Bowden is a New Yorker who lives in Ireland and is the Director of Ean, the Emigrant Advice Network. Do you have an opinion about whether you should be able to vote from abroad? Let Ean know, by writing to Noreen Bowden at

    For more information on Ean, visit

    Published on Irish, February 2008.

    See Ean’s factsheet on emigrant voting rights.

    Have an opinion on the matter? Drop a line to Noreen at, or use the comment feature below.