Extending the vote for the Irish presidency: does it really matter?

It’s a crowded field, 2019. A whole range of matters is chuff-chuffing towards us, and no matter how we dodge or weave we’ll have to meet them head-on. Brexit is of course the big one: will Theresa May’s deal be voted through the House of Commons? Because that would leave North-Eastern Ireland (NEI) effectively in the single market, meaning that there’d be little or no change in the present status north and south of the border. Note I say “little or no” – in other words, there will be some changes. One example: backstop or no backstop, we in the north will not be represented in the EU. So slan,  MEPs. The south will have an extra two MEPs, but being the greedy buggers they are they won’t pass any of them our way.

But there’s more to life than Brexit and the backstop. There is, for example, the May referendum.  This is seen as highly significant, as it would for the first time allow Irish citizens living outside the southern state to vote in elections for President of Ireland.

The fear some have is that the votes from outside the southern state will swamp the votes of those actually living in the state. Tanaiste Simon Coveney moves swiftly to dismiss such fears:

“In truth I think quite a small percentage of Irish citizens outside of the island of Ireland – Northern Ireland is different – will actually go to the trouble of voting.”

You see what Simon did there?  He smuggled in the question of northern votes under cover of votes throughout the world. Nice one, Simon.

And probably just as well. Because I’m willing to bet that there’ll be  larger percentage of northern nationalists voting in the presidential election than voting by the people of the south.

There are two ways you can look at this breakthrough. You could say that allowing all Irish citizens on this island to vote is the thin edge of the wedge; that once we get used to voting for the President of Ireland, we’ll want to get voting for all matters affecting the people of Ireland.

Alternatively, you could say that (i) the next presidential election is not until some seven years from now, which means the voting can has been kicked a long way down the road; and (ii) the president has no political power, so getting excited about being invited to vote for him or her  is to get excited about an empty gesture.

The truth is, allowing northerners to vote for the Irish president gives practical realization to the contention that people in the north are Irish. At the same time, it’s a practical realization in the case of the least political office available and besides, it won’t happen for another seven years, and God know what could have changed by that time. Genuine possibilities: Scotland could have become an independent country; the UK could have been dismantled; a border poll could have resulted in moves towards Irish reunification.  Keeping in mind all those possibilities, a Presidential vote is better than nothing, but not much better.  

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