Majority of emigrants surveyed want right to vote in Ireland

Young people more likely to have strong view on issue, Irish Times poll shows

Irish citizens living abroad don't have the right to vote in Ireland, but the majority of recent emigrants would like this to change, according to this year's Irish Times Generation Emigration Survey.

The poll, conducted by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of The Irish Times, canvassed the views by phone of 350 Irish people abroad who had left Ireland between 2008 and 2015.

It found that 62 per cent of respondents think they should be able to vote for the president, 63 per cent in general elections, 61 per cent in referendums and 53 per cent in Seanad elections.

The remainder of those polled were fairly evenly split between those who had no opinion on the issue, or who didn’t think they should have a right to vote.

Young people were more likely to have strong views on the issue, with 76 per cent of people under 25 saying they were in favour of a vote for the president, in general elections and in referendums, compared with just 58 per cent of over-35s who wanted a vote in general elections, or 60 per cent in referendums.

Of those who were in favour of voting rights, approximately six in 10 believed they should have a say indefinitely after leaving Ireland, while about one in three said it should be limited to a certain number of years.

Joey Kavanagh, founder of the Get the Boat to Vote campaign which rallied eligible Irish emigrants to return to cast a ballot in the same-sex marriage referendum in May 2015, said it was "really heartening to see younger emigrants so strongly in favour of an extension of the voting franchise to citizens abroad".

"Last year, after the marriage referendum, Enda Kenny praised those who 'voted with their feet', but many Irish abroad were frustrated that they were excluded from participating because of a lack of voting provisions," he said.

“The Irish government has dragged its feet on the issue of voting rights for citizens abroad for far too long. It would have been completely unacceptable if recent British emigrants had been excluded from voting in the EU referendum, so I’m hoping steps will soon be taken to extend the franchise to the Irish diaspora.”

Noreen Bowden, a diaspora consultant and co-founder of VotingRights.ie, a "global coalition" of groups campaigning on the issue, said the higher percentage of young people in favour was "eviden(ce) that pressures for Ireland to open up its political system to overseas citizens will only increase".

Under existing electoral legislation, Irish citizens are entitled to vote for 18 months after they leave the country, if they intend to return to live in Ireland within that timeframe.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said in May that the recently appointed Minister for Diaspora Joe McHugh will be prioritising the issue of emigrant voting in presidential elections during his time in office.

An interdepartmental group is currently assessing the legal and practical issues involved, following a report from the European Commission in 2014 which criticised Ireland for "disenfranchising" its citizens living abroad.

More than 125 countries worldwide have some provision to allow emigrants to vote from overseas.

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