Tuesday, 14 November 2017
The Diaspora: Statements
I am speaking as a returned emigrant. This is a subject I am passionate about. I welcome the work the Minister of State is doing but I wish to point out that the work will be judged on the things the Minister of State puts in place. The Minister of State can only get away with talking about the subject for so long. We really need to see things put in place. It is not only me, my colleagues or those who are saying it on a cross-party basis. The OECD and the European Commission have said it too. We are the laughing stock of the world because our emigrants, Irish citizens abroad, do not have voting rights. This cannot continue. The excuse that people hide behind and use is the fear that our diaspora will all rush out and vote for Gerry Adams. People need to get over it and get over themselves. That is what is said. If this is not put in place soon, then that is what people may rightfully think.
The minute I left Ireland I felt as if I was somehow a diluted citizen. That was offensive and it continues to offend me. There are no more excuses. The mechanisms are available. I commend the work of the Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad group. The group made a presentation to us last week. I am familiar with it from London. It has kept at it for years working for people's right to vote. I was delighted to meet the representatives. I am grateful to Senator Frances Black for inviting the group to speak to us.
It can only be talked about for so long. It needs to be done. We cannot hide behind things anymore. We need action for the thousands of people who have left. We should remember that emigration is a reality. It has been a reality in the constituency of the Minister of State and in my constituency of Mayo. However, just because it is a reality does not make it normal, and it is not normal. Then people return. It is a question of the way Irish citizens are treated abroad. They are no longer accepted into the golden circle. God knows there are enough golden circles here. There needs to be an emigrant circle where the rights of emigrants are protected.They are not making them up and a lot of them are very simple.
I welcome the initiatives taken by the Minister of State. It is also welcome that licences can be renewed online for the following year. That must be the case. However, I take issue with the fact that people then have to sit a driving test. Anyone who has driven through spaghetti junction or on the M25 or the M1 will not need a driving licence to drive on the roads here. It is just ludicrous. I passed my driving test in London. If one can meet the challenges posed by London traffic, one can certainly meet the challenges here. That must be taken into account.
The quotes given for motor insurance are generally disgraceful but especially those given to the diaspora. In the main, they are people with vast experience in business and everything else who are coming back here and have a huge amount to contribute to the economy. The Minister for Finance should bring in the insurance companies in the same way as the banks were brought in kicking and screaming after we had debated the issue for months at the finance committee. He should make the insurance companies answerable for why they see fit to have huge hikes in motor insurance premiums. Again, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating in the offers being made and the quotes given.
The banks can and must be held accountable. People are made to jump through hoops to identify who they are. They have a passport and other forms of identification. They do need to be X-rayed or have an MRI to prove they are who they say they are. They also have people to vouch for them.
I come from an agricultural community where the barriers in receiving entitlements and accessing the national reserve must be addressed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. That could be done very simply. Officials within Departments must have an understanding of what it is like to be forced to leave one's country and then to come back again.
Another issue I wish to raise with the Minister of State relates to naturalisation and people who want passports. My brothers and other family members were forced to emigrate to England. Their children consider themselves to be Irish and want to apply for passports, but they are told that they cannot because it will cost €950 to obtain a naturalisation certificate. That is totally wrong and something I ask the Minister of State to address, but there are many more issues and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We really want to see action on these matters. I hope the next time the Minister of State comes to the House there will be measurements of the actions taken and that they will have a real impact in order that we will welcome back our emigrants and embrace everything they have to return to us.