Home News Community Referendum on votes for overseas Irish possibly in 2024

Referendum on votes for overseas Irish possibly in 2024

Minister of State for Diaspora Colm Brophy has said that Ireland could hold a referendum on the votes for the Irish abroad as soon as 2024.

The Minster was speaking to the media and diaspora representatives recently when he announced that the next Global Irish Civic Forum will take place in Dublin in April 2023.

Votes for the Irish abroad will be on the agenda next April.

Colm Brophy TD said: “The question of participation of Overseas Citizens in our democracy, I believe will be a particularly important agenda item.

“The current programme for government contains a commitment to hold a referendum on extending the franchise for presidential elections to citizens resident outside the state, the diaspore strategy restates that commitment.

“Progress has been made. But there’s an awful lot more work to do. I want 2023 to be a year when we really stimulate and really advance public debate on a referendum to extend voting rights to our diaspora.

“This forum will be an important point on our journey as we build a pathway towards this referendum.”

Extending the voting for presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the state was recommended in the fifth report on the convention of the Constitution in 2013.

It was accepted by government in March 2017.

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And the 2017 Global Civic Forum recommended the right to vote should be extended to all citizens, and this was endorsed by the then government.

In September 2019, the bill was initiated in Dail Eireann and by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

That bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 32nd Dail on the 14 January and in July 2020 the bill was reintroduced.

“The bill is currently before Dail Eireann at second stage.

“The date for the holding the referendum will be decided once that legislation has been enacted.

“So there has been a lot of work done but there’s still an awful lot we need to do before a date can be set with confidence that we will achieve a positive outcome.

“I firmly believe that it is difficult to pass referendums without full engagement with the public on the issues that are the subject of that referendum.

“The Irish electorate takes its responsibilities at the ballot box very seriously.

“If we take them for granted, it will be at our peril.

“And I know that you don’t want that and I don’t want that.”

Votes for the Irish abroad have been on the agenda of successive Irish governments now. Asked what the timeline is and what could cause this government not to move forward, the minister said: “The government is absolutely committed to the referendum.

“We put it into the programme for government and we immediately re initiated the legislation necessary to make sure it could progress.

“Unfortunately for us, COVID intervened, and COVID has had a huge impact on a whole host of areas, but one of them was clearly its impact on the ability to hold a national referendum.

“For me, the key thing about this is that you can never presume, you can never in any way underestimate how a referendum can go very quickly out of control, and can quickly become an issue about a whole host of issues that are not maybe central to what the question being asked is.

“The way you prevent that and the way you make sure that that doesn’t happen is you put the groundwork in you put the hard work in in terms of making sure that there’s a clear path, there’s a clear identity, there’s a clear communication strategy as to what wants to be achieved.

“I’ll never ever say there can’t be delays.

“No one at the start of 2019 predicted what COVID was going to do.

“In the absence of something like that, I’m hoping that we will be looking at maybe 2024 but I don’t want to be 100% definitive because I think I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of the Civic Forum.

“I want to listen, I want to engage and I want to make sure that we come out of the forum with the right path, the right timeline to ensure that when this referendum is published, it is passed.

“I believe that some of the greatest and strongest voices that we can have will be the voice of our diaspora community and will be the voice of Irish citizens all over the world.

“When you actually think particularly of our last few presidents and the tireless work which they have done in terms of engaging to be the president of all Irish people, not just the people living here on the island, and making sure that they had that inclusive reach themselves.

“I think there’s a real strong message about how we strengthen and enhance the presidency by strengthening and enhancing the franchise to Irish citizens by giving them the opportunity to participate in the vote no matter where they’re living.

“One key thing about the presidential election is that it is the only national post in Ireland elected by the people of Ireland directly. So it’s a very clear and easy way for people to have a direct say.

“I am someone who is a strong believer in democracy.

“You should, at every opportunity, look how you can practically enhance the democratic process.

“But I would stress, it’s not necessarily a overwhelmingly universally shared (opinion), this is an argument we’ll have to win.

“We will have to go out and make the case and make the point.

“Because if you have slim or narrow leads at the start of a referendum, they can very quickly evaporate. So we need to be focused, I think, on making sure that we secure this referendum with all our efforts.”

Colm Brophy said: “As Life returns to normal, it’s time for us to gather in person.

“So I’m delighted therefore to announce that the next Global Irish Civic Forum will take place in Dublin in April 2023.

“It will be the third such forum, building on the great work done on the two previous iterations in 2015, and 2017.

“These gatherings are first and foremost about connection. It’s an opportunity for governments to connect in person with diaspora partners.

“It’s an opportunity for Irish community organizations from all over the world to connect with each other.

“We are a community and at the heart of any community must be that sense of connection, and togetherness.

“It’s also an opportunity for governments to inform and consult with Irish community leaders from all over the world on the key policy developments and topical issues.

“It’s been six years since the Second Global Civic Forum in 2017.

“We obviously would have met earlier, but for the intervention of COVID.

“The intervening five years have certainly been, to put it mildly, interesting and we therefore have much to discuss.

“The agenda has yet to be finalized but amongst the issues that are likely to feature are implementing the government’s diaspora strategy, the extention of voting rights, the emigrant support programme, enhanced supports for returning immigrants, youth engagement, the legacy of COVID and diaspora networks to the USA and Great Britain.”

Mr Brophy also commented on the impact Covid has has on his job since he was appointed as Minister for the diaspora in July 2020.

“The COVID experience was hard for all of us, particularly for those separated from family and friends.

“In terms of the relationship with our diaspora, however, there were some positive aspects to it. I think it marked another point of evolution of the relationship as the government reacted to the needs of Irish communities overseas.

“And as the scale of the impact of the pandemic and diaspora communities became clear, the government established a dedicated COVID 19 response for Irish communities abroad.

“We were in a position to react to the new circumstances by virtue of the existing relationships, partnerships, which we had built over such a period of time.

“It demonstrated to me that will real value of that successive engagement with all the community organizations with all the networks that has actually been taking place since 2004.

“The fund responded to many cases of hardship, particularly Britain, due to the ageing Irish community.

“It also responded to the needs of the United States for many people remain undocumented and were therefore unable to access the support services for COVID-19.

“But the COVID experience does not define us. However, our diaspora work continues, even in the shadow of COVID. In November 2020, we launched Global Ireland, which is honestly our strategy for 2020 to 2025. It was another watershed in the evolution of the relationship, the connection between Ireland and its diaspora.

“That strategy was born out of the need to sustain and renew the meaningful connection with our diaspora. It frames the work we are doing to enhance our relationship with the diaspora, and commits us to action in a number of key areas.

“The strategy also recognises the need to heal the relationship with immigrants who left Ireland in crisis, as a result of discrimination or as victims of institutional abuse.

“As Minister for the Diaspora, I’m determined to build on and give practical effect to that recognition.

“I work closely with my colleagues across government to ensure the needs of those survivors living outside of Ireland are addressed.

“Their needs must be reflected in a flexible implementation of the government action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions.

“It’s been a particular priority for me to ensure that those living outside of Ireland have a dedicated point of contact.

“I was therefore particularly pleased that last week the government approved the appointment of a special advocate for survivors. The special advocate’s role will be to represent the collective interests of those who suffered institutional abuse. This will ensure that their views will inform the delivery of the measures set out in the government’s action plan.

“A key part of the advocate’s engagement will be working with our embassies or consulates abroad, to ensure that those needs are actually met and are reflected.

“In addition, the special advocate will be supported by an advisory council, which will have specific representation from survivors living outside of Ireland.

“This is a particularly difficult time for survivors.

“This Civic forum, I want to be a platform for discussion and debate. It will also be a springboard for implementing the remainder of the government strands for strategy.

“But most of all, however, it will be about connection. It will be about conversation, and it will be about creative thinking.”

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