Ireland’s Diaspora Minister Joe McHugh has admitted that Irish people overseas are highly unlikely to be able to vote in the next Irish Presidential election in 2018
Ireland’s Diaspora Minister Joe McHugh has admitted that Irish people overseas are highly unlikely to be able to vote in the next Irish Presidential election in 2018.
The earliest possible should the government and Irish voters decide to extend the franchise and assuming the person elected in 2018 serves a full seven-year term will be 2025 – more than a decade after the Constitutional Conference recommended it by a huge majority.
Ireland, despite its relatively small size, is one of only a handful of nations that does not allow its citizens overseas to vote. In French parliamentary elections, for instance, London and the UK are a recognised constituency. But, Mr McHugh promised, he and other ministers are serious about bringing properly thought-through proposals to Cabinet on a Referendum to extend the vote to Irish citizens in the UK – including Northern Ireland – and further afield.
Speaking during a visit to London’s new Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith last week Mr McHugh admitted that ultimately the decision on whether or not to have a referendum rests with the Irish cabinet. In relation to the Presidential vote there is an energy behind it. “As we speak here are officials in Dublin meeting in the Department of Housing and Local Government and in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“I met (Housing and Local Government Minister) Simon Coveney this week and we’ll meet next week. We want to prepare a piece of work to present in the very short period ahead – whether that’s going to be months, it’s going to happen in a very, very short period of time.
“The time scale I’m looking at is the Civic Forum in May and I’m hoping that when Irish people from around the world come to that we’re going to have a piece of work for them to engage with and if there’s bits and pieces missing and things we need to work on or improve that’ll be an opportunity,” said Mr. McHugh.
“The commitment I gave when I became Minister for the Diaspora six months ago was to continue with the work from the Constitutional Convention and that we want to give the vote to the diaspora in presidential elections, that continues apace and my personal commitment will continue.
“There’s legal, practical and policy implications but at the moment the officials are working very closely between the Department of Housing and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“The first thing we have to do is to present something to government, the piece of work will go to government, the government will make the decision as to the timescale,” he added.
Pressed on whether or not – assuming a Referendum is called and approved – 2018 was viable Mr McHugh replied: “As you know 2018 is coming fast and furiously.
“If you look at having a Referendum, making sure that we go to government with the work completed and with the important work as well, not just outing a referendum to the people that is not properly researched or put together.
“The last thing I want to do is put to the people a referendum that is not thought out properly because if you put a referendum to the people that is not thought out properly there obviously is a chance…well, people can draw their own parallels with Brexit but it’s important that we do the work. It is very tight and the piece of work, body of work has been ongoing since I came in.
“I want to have a body of work that will ensure that we are as inclusive as we can possibly be.
“We’re different to a lot of countries, Poland does not have the same sort of access to citizenship that Ireland does, and Northern Ireland is fundamental, as far as I am concerned, and that the people of Northern Ireland are given the vote.
“It’s not simple, it is challenging but at the same time there is an energy and an enthusiasm.
“I’m not in a position to rule anything in or anything out because I’m not in the Cabinet. My job is to get this to cabinet in as quick a time period as possible and also in a proper way,” he said.
Eventually Mr McHugh conceded: “Look it’s a decision for Cabinet…it would be very difficult to see. It’s a difficult proposition in the time frame we’re presented with, yes.”
So the earliest one might hope for – and there’s no guarantee it will go to Referendum or be approved – is 2025?
“Well, that’s the time-frame for presidential elections but at the same time it’s important that I follow through on my commitments, I’ve just been in the job for six months.”