Late last week but strangely not at it’s conference Labour announced a plan to reach out to the Irish community abroad. This comes in the wake of the immigration debate in America which I am not going to get into the pros and cons of all that at the moment because that is an issue for the American people to decided. Basically the plan is as follows.
· The establishment of an Agency for the Irish Abroad, along the lines recommended by the Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants;
· Support for the principle of emigrant representation in Seanad Eireann for Irish communities;
· The expansion of the remit of RTE to allow it to broadcast to the United Kingdom;
· Early provision of the €34m in official government funding for emigrant services, as recommended by the Task Force;
· The extension to emigrant representative groups of the right to apply for funding from the Dormant Accounts Disbursement Board;
· A negotiated work visa programme between Ireland and the U.S., which would be open to undocumented Irish living and working in the United States;
· A political initiative to convey to the U.S. political community and business interests the importance of the Kennedy-McCain Immigration Reform Legislation;
· The provision to all Irish born emigrant pensioners of a right to free travel on public transport in this country;
· Entitlement for returning Irish born emigrant pensioners to full social welfare benefits.
Now most of those policies are quiet sound and a bit shocking that they were not implemented before. But by far and away the most interesting idea is the emigrant representation in Seanad Eireann. Now this would not be a entirely uniquely Irish thing. In fact the Italian parliament has twelve seats in the Chamber of Deputies and six in the Senate for Overseas Constituency. The Chamber has 630 members and 315 in the senate. If the same proportion was used in the Dail then there would be three foreign deputies. Considering how close the election will be that would be powerful body.
The Irish Seanad is in essences a talking shop which would benefit from the views of people from abroad. It may also give the Irish some more influence on the world stage. Then the question rises. Should people in Northern Ireland elect members to the Seanad or even vote in the presidential election, indeed should Irish in Boston get a vote in the presidential election.
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