Fianna Fail and Fine Gael block moves to extend votes to disapora
Now no chance to vote in 2018 Presidential election despite pledges
Ireland’s largest party Fianna Fail last week joined with the Fine Gael-led minority government to indefinitely block plans to give Irish citizens outside the country a right to vote.
It followed Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s announcement in the Dail that his government will not hold a referendum to permit Irish citizens here, in Northern Ireland and overseas, a vote in Presidential elections, as originally promised by the country’s Diaspora Minister.
Diaspora vote denied
Mr Kenny’s action means there is no chance whatsoever that Irish people here will get to vote in the 2018 Presidential election. Fianna Fail’s action in the Seanad also flies in the face of Fianna Fail’s own public declaration of support for extending the vote and promises it would support all such moves to achieve it.
Last week Sinn Fein’s Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile introduced a proposal to give emigrants voting rights but it was voted down after Fianna Fail sided with the Fine Gael government, which it is propping up in power, to block the proposal.
In 2013 Ireland’s Constitutional Convention recommended allowing Irish people abroad should have a say in constitutional votes. Until last week Fianna Fail had strongly supported this.
But last week it instructed senators not to support the Sinn Fein motion on the issue but back, instead, an alternative Fine Gael motion to delay a possible referendum on voting rights. Fianna Fail senators had reportedly been planning to support the motion.
The FG-led government says it needs yet more time to work out the logistics of facilitating the estimated 3.5 million Irish citizens living abroad and in Northern Ireland. It has had three years. Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Fein deputy leader, yesterday accused Fianna Fail and Fine Gael of “walking off the pitch” on the issue.
“Eighteen years ago, the Good Friday agreement enshrined in law the rights and entitlements of Irish citizens across all of Ireland’s 32 counties, including those in the North. It did not give partial citizenship or second-class citizenship; it gave full Irish citizenship as of right. Why the stalling?” she said.
Fianna Fail Senator Mark Dalys aid Ireland was suffering from a democratic deficit because of the number of citizens who did not have the right to vote.
“It is three years or more since the constitutional convention had its meeting and produced its fifth report, yet the government has not moved forward, other than to say there are issues of a technical and legal nature. To put it mildly, in the year of 2016 this is disgraceful,” he said.
“The fact it has also not come up with solutions but problems and does not have a real and practical road map is a failure of the government to extend the rights of citizens in terms of the right to vote.”
Speaking in Dail Eireann last month Enda Kenny blamed “logistics and cost” for not going ahead next year with a referendum to allow Irish people abroad vote in Presidential elections. He said: “There is a need to be aware, therefore, that if we consider this, we need to look at the scale of what is involved, the number of citizens to whom the franchise might be extended and what the impact might be on the electorate and the administrative and cost implications that could arise.
“Issues that need to be considered are whether all citizens outside the state have the right to vote in presidential elections, if they should be limited to a particular category, or if it should be citizens who have been absent from the state for a set period,” said Mr Kenny.
Unlike 125 other countries Irish emigrants can only cast a vote for 18 months after they first move abroad, and to vote they must be physically present in Ireland on election day.
Mr Kenny last month insisted in Dail Eireann that he is still actually committed to holding a referendum on the question of Irish people overseas being allowed to vote for the president.
“In respect of the 2018 election, the time would be very short to go through all of these considerable challenges, set it out and have it implemented. I might be wrong but my feeling is that it would not be possible,” he concluded.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who raised the voting issue in the Dail, was outraged, describing Kenny’s response as “unacceptable and deeply disappointing.”
“The government has had three years in which to answer the questions the taoiseach is now posing as if for the first time. This is not good enough,” he said. “The diaspora is a fundamentally important part of the Irish nation, in both historical and contemporary terms. Extending voting rights and allowing the Irish diaspora to express their democratic voice is a sensible and inclusive action which would improve and strengthen our relationship with the diaspora.”
The right of citizens in the North to vote in presidential elections “should not be dictated by how much it might cost,” Adams added.