POLITICIANS rushing to woo the Irish abroad are caught up in a brouhaha over who is Ireland’s most Diaspora-friendly party.
Irish Minister and Labour TD Pat Rabbitte launched a scathing attack on Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil as they tried to beat the Irish Government to the title last month.
With the Government delaying the announcement as to if the Irish abroad should get to vote for Ireland’s President, the opposition parties have called on the Taoiseach to give citizens living overseas a voice in the Dáil too.
But Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte, who was in Britain recently for St Patrick’s Day, slammed both parties for trying to win favour with the Diaspora, claiming they had a lot to make up for.
The Labour TD told The Irish Post the Government would never follow Sinn Féin’s lead on Diaspora relations after it caused the Irish in Britain 30 years of pain during the Troubles.
“Sinn Féin created more difficulty for the Irish Diaspora, especially in Britain, over 30 years, and people of my generation have not forgotten it,” he said. “Fianna Fáil should certainly do what they can for the Diaspora because they drove a couple of hundred thousand of them out of the country in terms of the way they mishandled the economy in recent years.”
Minister Rabbitte’s comments provoked outrage from both parties, with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams accusing him of hypocrisy.
“Is he talking to himself in the mirror when he makes these remarks?,” Mr Adams said adding that Mr Rabbitte was “a member of SF the Worker’s Party.”
“The fact is that these are thoughtful policies, which we sent to the Taoiseach before publication,” he said.
Fianna Fáil’s jobs spokesperson, Dara Calleary, admitted that his party made mistakes during its time in office, but said Mr Rabbitte’s comments were “typical of this Government”.
“They are three years in office at this stage and they have had the chance to do things for emigrants all year round, not just on St Patrick’s Day, and they have not done that. During their time in office, as well, nearly 100,000 people have emigrated in the last three years,” the Mayo TD added.
In proposals released late last month, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil both called for the creation of a Diaspora Minister.
Both said the Irish abroad should have a vote in Presidential elections and their own senator.
Mr Adams’ party also proposed Dáil seats for the Irish abroad and a Government-backed “emigration taskforce”.
However Mr Rabbitte said the Irish Government would not make policies based on “the latest whim of the Sinn Féin research staff”.
But Mr Adams, a Louth TD, said: “Rather than dismiss the policies, Minister Rabbitte would be better reading them and if he has some objection, then have a reasoned and rational debate with us on these issues.”
The comments came as the Irish Government delays stating its view on giving voting rights to Irish people around the world.
It is obliged to debate the extension of Presidential votes to the Irish abroad and decide whether or not to hold a referendum on the issue after the Constitutional Convention proposed the reform last November.
Campaigners in Britain have claimed that a vote in Presidential elections should be a bare minimum for any reforms.
They have pointed out previously that Ireland is one of just four of the EU’s 28 member states that do not let their citizens vote in parliamentary elections from abroad.