Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar (centre) with Michael Cusacks GAA club secretary Donal O'Leary and chairman Kieran Olwell in Sydney. (Pic: Michael Cusacks/Jamie Fitzsimons)
The Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar has voiced his personal support for emigrant voting rights in Dáil and presidential elections.
Mr Varadkar is in Australia to promote Irish tourism, trade and sport.
The government has established a Constitutional Convention to make non-binding recommendations on seven areas of potential constitutional reform, including the issue of emigrant voting rights for future presidential elections.
The convention, chaired by Concern CEO Tom Arnold, will first examine reducing the presidential term of office to five years and reducing the voting age to 17.
It will subsequently explore giving citizens resident outside Ireland the right to vote in presidential elections at Irish embassies; provision for same-sex marriage; amending the clause on the role of women in the home; increasing women’s participation in politics; and removing the offence of blasphemy from the constitution.
Mr Varadkar outlined his position on the expat vote issue, in an interview with the Irish Echo.
“My own view – and Simon [Coveney] and I actually did a bit of work together on it – is that we would like to extend the franchise for the presidency. We like the idea of him or her being the president of the Irish people and the Irish nation. Therefore we would like to extend voting rights to all Irish citizens,” he said.
He said this was not government policy but “would be a nice thing to do and would be of real value”.
Asked about voting rights for the Dáil – an area not being considered by the convention – he also voiced his support, with provisos.
“In terms of the Dáil, I would favour it for people who are only out of the country for a short period of time – maybe say they’re gone a year or two. But I don’t think people who are gone a long time should vote for our parliament,” he said.
“There’s a simple reason for that. If you reduce it to the ridiculous, what does the Dáil do? It makes the laws and sets the taxes. So the people who vote for the Dáil should be the people who have to obey our laws and pay our taxes.”
He said he would see a stronger case for extending Dáil voting rights to Europeans who are living in Ireland for a long period of time.
He said if Ireland retained the Seanad, there could be a case for emigrant representation there.
Mr Varadkar favours the abolition of the Seanad.
He said there were “mixed views” on emigrant voting within cabinet.
While in Sydney, Mr Varadkar attended a Tourism Ireland event with the organisation’s Chief Executive, Niall Gibbons, and singer Ronan Keating to promote the Gathering.
He also met members of the Michael Cusacks GAA Club last Sunday at a club day in Surry Hills.
The government is targeting an extra 25,000 visitors from Australia next year, as part of the Gathering.
Responding to Gabriel Byrne’s much-publicised criticism of the Gathering as “a scam”, made on an Irish radio programme, the minister said he felt the actor’s issue was more with the “amount of money the government is putting into culture and the level of support that we’re offering the Irish overseas”.
“But it is a tourism-led initiative. The objective is to bring an extra 325,000 visitors into Ireland, generating maybe an extra €200m in revenue and helping to sustain and create a lot of jobs in Ireland,” he said.
Mr Varadkar added: “We don’t make any apologies about that. It isn’t just a tourism marketing wheeze, it is actually much more than that.”
He said “people all over Ireland are getting very enthusiastic about this”.
:: Banking salaries
On the issue of half a million euro salary packages for six executives at the former Anglo Irish Bank, including its Australian Chief Executive, Mike Aynsley, he said people in financial services were paid too much. He said that was an international problem.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan confirmed that six executives at the Irish Banking Resolution Corporation (IBRC), including its Australian Chief Executive Mike Aynsley, are in receipt of packages worth over €500,000.
Mr Aynsley, 54, is a former executive at NAB.
He earns €663,000 a year at IBRC, with that figure broken down into a €500,000 salary, allowances of €38,000 and a pension sum of €125,000.
There are 12 staff at IBRC in receipt of remuneration packages of €300,000-€399,000, 24 on €200,000-€299,000, and 44 on €150,000- €199,000.
The former Fianna Fáil government led by Brian Cowan approved the salary packages.
Mr Varadkar said it was important to make a distinction between people who were brought in from overseas to help Ireland save hundreds of million of euros and those who “were around when things were going wrong and haven’t taken their share of the pain”.
He acknowledged the case for reduced salaries and a full pay review in the banking sector.