Press Release: Public Figures Back Overseas Seanad Candidate to Represent ‘Lost’ Voters

Public Figures Back Overseas Seanad Candidate to Represent ‘Lost’ Voters

A host of public figures including Rory O’Neill (aka Panti), author Belinda McKeon and a former Rose of Tralee have today (December 10th) backed a London-based NUI Galway graduate to stand as a candidate in next year’s Seanad election.

Barry Johnston, a 29 year old human rights campaigner, will seek to win one of three seats representing the NUI Panel in order to draw attention to the lack of voting rights for Irish citizens living abroad.

Mr Johnston said, “When an Irish person gets on a plane or a boat, they lose their vote. Since the last election in 2011 we’ve seen at least the equivalent of 1000 potential voters leaving Ireland every fortnight. These are the lost votes of the recession.”

129 countries around the world, including 25 of 28 EU states, make provisions to allow their citizens to vote while overseas. The OECD and the European Commission have recently criticised the Irish Government for the disenfranchisement of its emigrants, and pressure is growing from campaign groups.

“It’s time we updated the relationship between Ireland and its emigrant citizens. The most recent wave of emigration is just the latest example in our history of exporting those people who didn’t ‘fit’ socially or economically. Yet we’re all too eager to tap up the diaspora for money and jobs. I’m running for election to the Seanad to make sure the Irish abroad finally have a real say in Irish politics.”

Out of Date and Out of Step

Mr Johnston criticised the lack of progress in expanding voting rights for emigrants by successive Governments but warned it was a more pressing issue than ever ahead of next year’s election.

“Over the years we’ve seen all parties bring forward promises in their manifestos to expand the vote – promises which are quickly shelved. This Government’s own recently published ‘Diaspora Strategy’ dodged the issues once more despite voting rights being a key demand from the consultations.

“The recent marriage referendum showed that a new wave of Irish emigrants is no longer happy to photo-shopped out of Irish public life but many were left without a voice at the ballot box. A huge chunk of the Irish nation will be silenced once again in next year’s election. It’s time to change the law on overseas voting which is now hopelessly out of date and out of step with an increasingly mobile and outward looking nation of people.”

Support from Public Figures

Among those backing Mr Johnston is Rory O’Neill, drag performer and gay rights activist. Mr O’Neill said:

“Over the past number of years, I’ve travelled to and performed in places like Australia, the US and Britain, and everywhere I go, I get huge masses of Irish turning up in my audiences. No matter how happy or settled they might be in their new surroundings, they all still have one eye back on home. I felt like that myself when I lived abroad.

All around the world there are fabulous young, talented, engaged Irish people living, working, creating and contributing; and they’ve still got plenty to say about the kind of country they want to belong to. We saw that with the #hometovote campaign. That shouldn’t be a one off. ”


TV psychologist and former Rose of Tralee Dr Clare Kambamettu said:

“As someone who emigrated and the daughter of an immigrant, I am delighted to support Barry’s campaign bid. When we lived together in London in 2007 I remember how we avidly followed news stories from home yet how disempowered and detached we felt. Throughout my international travels as Rose of Tralee, I met so many others just like us. They too had left and felt their separation from home deeply. This voice of Ireland abroad is a powerful one and positive one that needs to be heard at home. ”
Belinda McKeon, the New York-based Irish writer, said:

“Many of us who have left Ireland for elsewhere in the past decade still care deeply about our country and its future. We came home to vote and, given the chance, we’d do so again.”

Professor Mary Hickman, Chair of the Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA), of which Mr Johnston is a member, said:

“I’m delighted to back Barry’s campaign for election to the Seanad. VICA and many of the Irish abroad will be mobilising ahead of the general election in 2016 to put pressure on politicians to make firm commitments that give Irish citizens abroad the right to vote in the Dail and in all other national elections. We will be working closely with Barry throughout the election to make sure the issue is high on the agenda, and we hope Barry will win a seat to hold the incoming government to account for these promises.”

Later this month Mr Johnston will launch a website to gain input from Irish citizens around the world into a ‘migrant manifesto’ ahead of the 2016 election.


For interviews please contact Barry Johnston on 00447938678384/ 00353874380522

Twitter: @B_CA_Johnston


Candidate Images (please credit Peter Fingleton):  

About Barry Johnston:

Born in Ballinasloe, Galway and brought up just over the border in Roscommon, I’m the youngest of two boys to Johnny and Pat, local teachers.

I was educated at Creagh N.S. and St Joseph’s College Garbally before going on to study psychology at NUI Galway and the University of London followed by International Relations at Dublin City University .

After a brief stint at the Department of Justice I joined the staff of Amnesty International Ireland where I began working as an advocate for human rights. Over the past 7 years I’ve worked with individual activists and communities from around the world, on issues as diverse as mental health, LGBT rights, climate change and corporate tax avoidance, making sure people can claim their rights and hold governments and companies to account.

Single, and living in London for the third time in 10 years, I relocated from Dublin most recently in 2011 and now work with the international charity ActionAid UK where I lead their political and corporate engagement. I have been known to moonlight as a chef on occasion, appearing on the Channel 4 show The Taste.

Proposed Extension of Voting Rights:

  1. Extend the current 18 month period in which emigrants can remain on the electoral register to a minimum of at least one electoral cycle and to allow votes to be cast overseas.
  2. Beyond that, extend the right to vote in elections for the Dail to all Irish citizens abroad who are first generation emigrants (that is, who were born in Ireland and left).
  3. That this be managed by a system of reserved constituencies in order not to swamp the votes of resident citizens (as happens in 14 other countries).
  4. The vote to be granted with no time limit after emigration, to reflect a long term commitment to Ireland and intentions to return.
  5. That all citizens abroad (including those of Irish descent who have become citizens) should be able to exercise the right to vote for the President.
  6. An Electoral Commission should be established in the first 100 days of the new government to begin this.

Other Issues:

Mr Johnston’s candidacy will also focus on the rights of refugees and migrants in Ireland and around the world, Ireland’s human rights record, and supporting and promoting Ireland’s food industry.

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