Voting rights would help northern nationalists

Posted By: October 12, 2016

Jim Gibney Irish News (Belfast).Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The partition of Ireland was a disaster for the people of this nation, nationalist and unionist. It not only fragmented the territorial integrity of the nation but it divided the people and set in motion the emergence of two states which developed back-to-back and separate from one another.

Vested interests took over both states with unionists consolidating their hold on the six counties through a state-sponsored system of violence and discrimination which excluded nationalists from all vestiges of political, economic and cultural power and influence and reduced them to second-class citizens in their own land.

Those who came to power in the 26 counties consolidated their power by abandoning northern nationalists to their fate at the hands of unionist bigots while abandoning any aspiration to Irish nationhood or Irish independence.

Free Statism became the mirror equivalent of unionism in terms of its focus on building a state, imitatively Catholic, whose leaders, in time, and increasingly presented the 26 counties as the ‘nation’, the ‘republic’, the ‘country’. The indifference of the southern state often assisted unionists to consolidate their stranglehold.

The peace process is transforming the north and freeing people to think in unlikely ways. The Brexit vote has even caused some unionists to consider a newly configured Ireland, north and south, within the EU.

Yet a ‘Free State’ insular mentality still pervades the political mainstream in the south. It is particularly obvious in the language of the political establishment and the media which presents the southern state as ‘the nation’ – which it most certainly is not!

It is worryingly obvious in the failure of the Irish government to implement a key conclusion of  the 2014 Constitutional Convention, which overwhelmingly recommended that the Irish government hold a referendum to change the Irish constitution to allow the people of the north and the worldwide Irish diaspora the right to vote in presidential elections. It blatantly ignores this recommendation.

Prior to the last election in the south, Sinn Féin TDs Gerry Adams and Sean Crowe proposed a bill in the Dáil calling for all Irish citizens over the age of sixteen irrespective of where they live to be permitted to vote in presidential elections. The then Irish government did not oppose it.

Last week Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile had to ask the Taoiseach Enda Kenny several times in the Seanad chamber if he would ensure that he and tens of thousands of others like him in the north who wanted to vote for the next Irish president would be eligible to do so.

The Taoiseach refused to answer Senator Ó Donnghaile directly and suggested that the Irish diaspora, outside of the north, is his main concern.

It is not clear if the Taoiseach is rejecting the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention or is setting the scene for rejecting it by partially responding to it: that is excluding the people of the north from the next presidential election due to be held in 2018.

Whatever his excuse is nationalists in the north need to be alert to the possibility that once again, just as they did after partition, the political establishment in the south are considering abandoning the people of the north again.

This constitutional change is a matter exclusively for the Irish government to decide. It does not require a view (never mind an agreement) from the British government or unionists.

It is a simple and straightforward matter which the Irish government could agree to do in the morning.

Northern nationalists are philosophically and emotionally part of the Irish nation. It is in their DNA. They deeply resent partition and constantly seek practical ways in which their national identity is affirmed.

And what better way to affirm it than being able to vote for the Irish president.

The decision of the Constitutional Convention is a clear indication that the people of the south support people from the north voting in presidential elections.

Northern nationalists need to mobilise and pressurise the Taoiseach to fulfil the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention.

Partition failed. And no better way of showing its failure would be people in the north voting for an Irish president in 2018, two years before the centenary of the imposed division of our country in the Government of Ireland Act.