Votes for emigrants – a dangerous idea

27 January, 2011

Sarah Carey has a useful piece in today’s Irish Times.  She deals with (and comes out against) the suggestion that emigrants should (even if they don’t pay Irish taxes) have a vote in Irish elections. I find it incredible that votes for emigrants is being seriously suggested, given that (a) the Irish diaspora is very large relative to the size of the resident population and (b) non-residents wouldn’t have to live with the fiscal consequences of decisions made by the politicians they would help to elect – a basic unfairness.

Votes for non-tax-paying emigrants is another example of woolly thinking by the chattering classes, based on sentiment rather than practical reality.    If we are going to make changes to our electoral laws, then we should instead focus our energies on changing our system to one that will help reduce the impact of clientelism and parish pump politics – such as the one suggested recently by former Attorney-General John Rogers.

An extract from Sarah Carey’s article:

There has to be a mechanism whereby those who vote have to consider the personal consequences of that vote. Living here means you have to live with your decision. Sadly, you have to live with other people’s decisions too but that’s another day’s work.

I like too the guiding principle of “no taxation without representation”. It’s not reasonable that people who don’t pay taxes to the State should be allowed to have a say in how those taxes are collected and distributed. Those living in Ireland, no matter how poor, will pay tax, directly or indirectly.

If we are to change this system and insist that citizenship and not residency is the basis of the franchise, the right to vote must come with some corresponding obligations. Paying tax is the obvious choice.

We know of course that in the American War of Independence, the rallying cry “no taxation without representation” helped to bind together the insurgent forces.  However, thinking about the words quoted above, I wonder did the sub-editors mistakenly amend what I suspect Sarah intended to write in the second paragraph.  If she had written “no representation without taxation”  instead of “no taxation without representation”, it would have made more sense!

In passing, I note that a wicked friend of mine opposed the election of Mary McAleese as President of the Republic of Ireland: his reasoning was that the principle of “no representation without taxation” should apply and, as Mrs McAleese was tax-resident in a “different jurisdiction” (ie the United Kingdom), she should not be our most exalted representative.

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2 Responses to “Votes for emigrants – a dangerous idea”


  1. […] here: Votes for emigrants – a dangerous idea « PuckstownLane's Blog // Votes for emigrants – a dangerous idea « PuckstownLane's Blog taxation without […]

  2. Mick Says:

    Hi Guys,

    Just a few quick comments for the moment. The idea that the vote should be considered for the diaspora is misplaced – if implemented it would apply to a dramatically smaller group, namely Irish born citizens. The term ‘no taxation without representation’ is actually correct and was used during the American revolution to limit political representation to land-owners. Conversely, we currently have Irish citizens abroad who do pay tax yet cannot vote.

    On a positive note the fact that this subject is getting increased attention indicates a new willingness for debate. Hopefully it can move towards looking at some of the benefits in considering the Irish nation in an international context.


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