Junior minister with responsibility for the diaspora Jimmy Deenihan outlined a proposed action plan to appoint three Senators with respective responsibility for “the Americas, Europe/ UK, and Australia/elsewhere”.
Along with having a say in presidential elections, he indicated the Senate initiative could be part of a revitalised approach towards representing Irish passport holders abroad and inviting investment.
Mr Deenihan had estimated the number of Irish passport holders abroad as “well over a million”. The former Arts, Heritage, and Gaeltacht Affairs minister also said, smilingly, that he had informed Taoiseach Enda Kenny — “when he was compensating me” — there was no point in having the new portfolio unless there was some action plan to accompany it.
“The last thing you want to do is build up hopes and not deliver,” he said. “It could become counter-productive if people don’t see results.”
The minister of state at the Department of the Taoiseach discussed the idea during a think-tank session with local tourism and service representatives in Youghal, Co Cork.
Mr Deenihan was accompanied by Cork East TD David Stanton, chairman of the Committee on Justice, Defence, and Equality. Mr Deenihan had responded to a suggestion that providing voting rights for Irish passport holders abroad would enhance their “sense of belonging” and encourage more homeland trips as had been evident during last year’s Gathering.
Mr Deenihan said providing full Dáil voting rights would be impractical as there “could be more voters outside a constituency than within it”.
He considered it more feasible the diaspora could vote in presidential elections, before adding that direct Senate representation was another option he favoured.
“The three senators could prove to be worth more than the taxpayer is paying to have them there,” he said. “They would be making a very important connection with the diaspora and could be using that connection to pursue investment. It would be a two-way process.”
Mr Stanton said that he supported his colleague’s views on Senate representation, describing it as “a great opportunity” for representation of passport holders and “millions of others” of Irish descent.