Emigrants unlikely to have vote for 2018 Presidential election

Taoiseach says referendum on issue will not be held in 2017 as previously promised

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: ‘Should it be citizens born on the island of Ireland only? Should it be passport holders only?’ Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: ‘Should it be citizens born on the island of Ireland only? Should it be passport holders only?’ Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

A referendum on the right of emigrants to vote in Presidential elections will not be held in 2017 as previously promised, the Taoiseach has confirmed.

Minister of State for Diaspora Joe McHugh said in July that a referendum was planned for early next year.

But speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Enda Kenny said it is unlikely that changes to the constitution to extend the franchise to citizens overseas could be voted on in a referendum and implemented in time for the next presidential election in 2018.

More than 125 countries have provisions for their citizens to vote from overseas. Irish emigrants can only cast a ballot for 18 months after they move abroad, and must be in Ireland on election day in order to do so.

The Constitutional Convention recommended in 2013 that emigrants be given a vote in Presidential elections, while the European Commission heavily criticised Ireland for “disenfranchising” its citizens living in other EU countries by not providing them voting rights.

Mr Kenny said he was still committed to holding a referendum on the issue of emigrant voting for the President, and had recently met with Mr McHugh to request that the research being done by an interdepartmental group be concluded soon.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

People born in Northern Ireland should also be included, the Taoiseach said, but this “would have to be looked at in the context of the Good Friday Agreement”.

“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 added.

Speaking to The Irish Times last week, Mr McHugh said the interdepartmental group’s report would be ready in time for the Global Irish Civic Forum in Dublin next February, where about 200 emigrant representatives will meet.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who raised the issue in the Dáil on Tuesday, described the Taoiseach’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”, Mr Adams added.

Speaking at a seminar on voting rights for emigrants and young people in Dublin today, organised by the National Youth Council of Ireland and University College Cork, Dr Theresa Reidy from the Department of Government at UCC said “it is time for the Government to come good on their promises”.

“We have heard all of the arguments about how it is too complicated, the diaspora is enormous and dispersed across the globe, Northern Ireland poses an unusual set of circumstances, registration would be too complex,” she said.

“ These questions are aired as though Ireland is a state on Mars and these types of issues have not been considered and addressed in a variety of different ways by other democracies... A decision needs to be made with a detailed implementation plan in time for the 2018 presidential election.”

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