Article 2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states:
- It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.
The most fundamental right of any citizen is the entitlement to vote, yet Ireland did not allow Mary McAleese to vote for herself in the presidential election in which she was elected President. Those living in the North and overseas, referred to in Article 2 of the Constitution, are refused the right to vote, the very entitlement of any citizen of any nation. Some 1.8 million people in the North are entitled to be Irish citizens, yet they are not entitled to vote. Some 800,000 Irish passport holders living overseas are entitled to be Irish citizens but they are not entitled to vote. The Irish diaspora of 70 million people are not given a say either. They are referred to in Article 2 of the Constitution but we do not give them a vote. We deny 800,000 Irish passport holders living overseas the right to vote because the establishment would not allow such a significant number of people to hold the balance of power in the Dáil and to decide who would be in government. We will not give people in the North a vote in the Dáil. The 800,000 Irish passport holders living outside the State is the equivalent of the population in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford combined. Can one imagine excluding those citizens from voting in the Irish State? Of the 33 countries in the Council of Europe, only four countries, like Ireland, do not give its citizens overseas the vote. The Seanad is the Chamber in which they could be given a say and the political establishment might allow them to have a voice within the system of Government and yet, the Government is saying “No” and has suggested it has a better solution. In fact, it has no solution. We will continue to deny Irish citizens the right to have a say.
We have appointed great people from the North to the Seanad. Their names have been mentioned already, people such as Séamus Mallon, Gordon Wilson and others from both traditions. Is this not the place that those people will have a say? I believe this is the House in which they could have a say. That is a significant national democratic deficit. It is a disgrace. Other colleagues have pointed out an even greater and equally worrying democratic deficit, when one considers our treatment of EU legislation. This is nothing short of scandalous, a deficit unparalleled. Let us just imagine that the first piece of organ transplantation legislation in the history of the State was signed by a Minister on 28 August last year, without reference to the Dáil, the Seanad or the committee, despite being asked to do so. If one speaks to Mark Murphy, the chief executive of the Irish Kidney Association, he will say that if the legislation had been better, lives would have been saved. That is how important the scrutiny of legislation is. It is an example of the importance of EU directives.
Let us consider how badly we do legislation. In one year, 1,291 EU regulations and 594 statutory instruments were introduced without any scrutiny by any legislator, and 164 EU directives were brought in in a similar manner as the organ transplantation legislation was brought into this county. That is a total of 2,049 laws, regulations, directives. How many laws was the Oireachtas responsible for in a year? Just 47 Bills were enacted by the Oireachtas, amounting in terms of quantity to just 2% of the EU legislation. Were we allowed to scrutinize the EU directives? No, we were not. The Ministers did that themselves without scrutiny by anybody. A former Taoiseach said that the number of officials in Departments who look at EU regulations is very small. Who is looking at the 164 EU directives? They are simply being plucked and transposed straight into Irish law without anyone really looking at them.
The Government knows this is a problem. Let us consider what Deputy Paul Keogh, now the Chief Whip, said when in opposition. Even in respect of those statutory instruments which are laid before the House I believe that Members do not ever read them. There were 594 statutory instruments. Have we a national democratic deficit? Is the way we treat legislation in this country broken in the same way as our economy and bank are broken? It is. Yet, we are certainly not fixing it, we are making a bad situation worse. We have no proposal to fix our national democratic deficit or to give citizens in the North or those overseas a vote in the Parliament. Let us consider how hard Daniel O’Connell had to struggle to give Catholics the vote, how hard women struggled to get the vote and how those in the North struggled so hard to get the vote.
They achieved that over time, and yet as a nation we deny votes to 1.8 million people in the North and 800,000 Irish passport holders overseas. One in every three persons entitled to be an Irish citizen is denied a vote and the Government’s solution to the problem is to make the problem worse.