Irish people living abroad will be brought into line with most other countries if a referendum this year gives them the right to vote while domiciled outside of the Republic. However, the government is only putting forward the right to vote in the Presidential Elections and not general elections – well, at least not yet. PJ Cunningham reports.
Ireland’s diaspora could be allowed to vote in future presidential elections if the country gives the idea the thumbs up in a referendum next May.
The Cabinet is due to meet in the coming weeks to agree on wording for the referendum, which will take place in conjunction with the local and Europeans elections in the 26 counties.
It is expected that the people will vote in favour of such a move, thereby opening the option of allowing Irish people living abroad to participate online in general elections sometime in the near future.
In the current situation, people who have left the country to live abroad have no right to partake in any voting for general elections, presidential elections or referenda.
The proposal to extend the exercising of the franchise was recommended by the Citizen’s Assembly as well as receiving the support of all parties in the Oireachtas.
Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, said the government wanted to look outward and give a real voice to Irish citizens living abroad by providing them with a role to play in home affairs.
If Ireland vote to expand its electorate to overseas, it will be following the example of most other countries including Australia, Canada and Belgium who already allow their citizens domiciled away from home the right to exercise their franchise.
In the case of Australians, citizens abroad must register to vote within a period of three years after leaving while also stating that they plan to return within six years of having departed their native shores.
France, on the other hand, grants citizens unrestricted rights to vote while both Britain and Germany allow ex-pats to vote for a limited number of years after emigrating.
The plan for Ireland is to grant voting rights to emigrants, including people living in Northern Ireland, which would come into operation by 2025 – the date of the expected next Presidential Election.
This issue has been raised several times in the recent past, particularly when Irish leaders are at functions abroad.
Fianna Fáil described the vote to emigrants as the most “fundamental right of any citizen. We must stop denying that right to so many millions of our citizens.”
A major influence in extending the vote came from “The #HometoVote movement during the 2015 marriage equality referendum. The volume of people who remained invested in Ireland’s future by flying home at their own expense to lend support to the change being sought showed the huge appetite younger people had to be part of the change at home.
However last week Mr Coveney said his own view was that most wouldn’t bother going to the trouble of voting even if the national extends the franchise from the next Presidential Election because of political apathy among the younger members of society.
“Myself and the Taoiseach are both very committed to it. This is about consistency with Ireland looking outwards and taking our citizens abroad seriously in terms of their connection with Ireland, their interest in Ireland.
“I have said for many years that Irish people abroad should be able to vote in Presidential elections. I believe the President should represent Irish people at home and abroad. We are very unusual as a country and a people. In many ways we are a global tribe that has a presence right across the world,” he claimed.
There is a perception that Sinn Fein, with its major standing in the North and the US, would benefit most from the extension of voting rights. However, the Minister said decisions were not being made on the basis of party political interests.
“I think we should make the decision on the basis of reaching out to Irish citizens all over the world and saying to them: ‘You matter, we want to hear what you have to say, we want you to feel represented by the president too,’” he said.
Sinn Fein held a series of meeting over the past weeks with diaspora groups in London. Afterwards its representative on the circuit, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile stressed: “Full and equal citizenship, including the right of the Diaspora and citizens in the North, to vote in Presidential elections is a positive advance for everyone in Irish life.”
“I look forward to continued engagement across the political, civic and community spectrum, to ensure the rights of the diaspora are realised at next year’s vote.”