Former President Mary Robinson started a tradition of placing a light in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin for Ireland's exiles and emigrants. Michael D Higgins, too, picked up the torch, making it part of his legacy to be a President for "all of the Irish at home and abroad."
Now the Government is proposing to amend the Constitution to extend voting rights in presidential elections to Irish citizens overseas.
The Department of Foreign Affairs estimates that up to 3.6 million people living outside the Republic would be eligible to vote. Although Belfast-born Mary McAleese served two terms in office, the 2025 presidential elections could be the first time Northern Irish citizens will be eligible to vote for Uachtarán na hÉireann.
However, it will be up to the State’s residents to decide the fate of Irish citizens in a referendum that is expected in October or November of this year.
More than 150 global Irish responded to a call-out from The Irish Times when asked if the diaspora should be entitled to vote in presidential elections.
A few key themes emerged:
1. There is no consensus among the diaspora
Gerald Faulkner (68)
From Galway, he emigrated 37 years ago and now lives in New South Wales in Australia. He is involved in Irish folk music festivals and has a radio show called "Ireland Downunder". He says:
"We of the Irish diaspora should most definitely be allowed to vote for a President, a prime minister and TDs.
“We are left out and get no recognition for the contribution we make to Ireland despite living many thousands of miles away. Our hearts still lie with the mother country and we should be permitted to have a say in who gets to be elected.”
Emigrated to Madrid, Spain, 31 years ago:
“However much you read The Irish Times and stay abreast of what is happening in Irish politics and current affairs, when you live abroad you become detached from the reality of what is going on.
“I do not believe that the 3.6 million Irish abroad should have the right to vote in the referendum or any other vote in Ireland. More importantly, they could participate in votes, elections, politics in their chosen country of residence and impact daily life there.
“Once you have official residence status in another country and are paying your taxes there, you should have full voting rights, on a par with any citizen of that country.”
Peter O'Connor (63)
A returned emigrant and a musician living in Waterford, Ireland
"I lived almost 20 years in The Netherlands and felt disenfranchised as I couldn't take part in their national elections nor any Irish votes. It felt very unfair, and it distanced me from my home country.
“Being allowed to vote in referendums and some elections - even for a period of 5-10 years - would have helped me stay in touch in a better way. It may well have encouraged me to return sooner.”
Philip Owens (56)
Film editor in Los Angeles in the United States, having moved there 24 years ago
“I still call Ireland ‘home’, even though it hasn’t been for a quarter of a century. That’s a matter of the heart, but the politics of a nation moves much faster than my internal emotions, and I’m the one who walked out the door, not Ireland.
“No matter how much I try to stay in touch, I’m not the one dealing with the bin collection, the internet, the price of electricity or beet sugar. I’m not the one lying on a trolley in A&E. My wife isn’t Savita Halappanavar and my child isn’t Ana Kriégel.
“You all live there; run the place yourselves, and pay no attention to the misty-eyed bleatings of those who didn’t have the interest or engagement to stay there and make it work as well as it largely has.
“I know only too well the ludicrous picture many Irish in America have of the ‘Old Country’. Trust me - you don’t want their voices heard. Were I to live there again, I’d be thrilled to be able to vote again. But not until that day... if it ever comes.”
A human rights activist and writer
"I was born In England, but have lived in Ireland and several other countries. I have only ever had an Irish passport. The Irish President is my president in a way that the president (or monarch) of the country I'm living in isn't.
“I’ve written various academic books about Irish history and identity, played GAA for London, and think the vote should be extended to all adult Irish passport holders wherever they live. Don’t try to make those of us unwillingly abroad ‘less Irish’.
“The long and ongoing contribution of the diaspora to Irish development isn’t in any doubt. For generations, this connection has been rightly acknowledged and celebrated. Allowing Irish passport holders to vote in presidential elections and referenda would be a logical extension of this inclusion, of recognising that the Irish abroad are still Irish, with a contribution to make to Irish political and civic life.”
Living in Ontario, Canada, for 40 years
"While I try to stay informed on Irish politics I do not feel even slightly capable of making an informed decision regarding an election.
“I would not participate and feel quite strongly that those who reside outside of the country should not determine elections for a country they do not reside in.”
2. Very different views can be found on either side of the Border
Ben Kelly (29)
Moved from Derry to London for university 11 years ago. He is now a social media editor and will be campaigning with Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad, a group based in London.
"In the crucial years after the Good Friday Agreement, [Mary McAleese] showed the possibilities of how one symbolic head of state could represent Irish citizens both north and south, nationalist and unionist, at home and abroad.
“Since coming to work in London, I am of a generation of young Irish people who take pride in the international image of President Higgins, who does so much to visit and represent the Irish abroad.
“In the past decade, a new Ireland has been born, and we want to be a part of it. But as an Irish citizen, I was just as unable to vote for President Higgins in London as I was unable to vote for President McAleese in Derry. I believe that allowing citizens abroad to vote for the presidency is a hugely symbolic inclusion of those who find themselves away from home, and is something which will only enrich our Republic.
“The notion of what the presidency can be has been evolving in a positive, inclusive, outward-looking way. I believe that the franchise in this crucial vote should evolve similarly.”
Living in Dublin.
"If you are living abroad and paying taxes abroad you should not have a say in how the country is governed. You will not have to endure the outcome. It is grossly unfair to subject citizens to the whims of those who are not equally invested in the process."
Niall Ó Donnghaile (34)
Sinn Féin Senator, living in Belfast.
"I am Irish. I don't like 'abroad'. I'm not an emigrant, nor am I a member of the 'Diaspora'. I live in Ireland's Second City.
“Fellow Belfast citizens have been elected President in the past, yet still, we are unable to vote for our Uachtarán. The Good Friday Agreement enshrines our right to be Irish citizens, yet we are denied this modest franchise. We are citizens denied the right to vote for our own First Citizen.
“As a member of the Seanad, I will, ironically, vote in favour of the referendum bill but won’t be able to vote in the referendum itself. Like Derry’s James McClean, Antrim’s Neil McManus and Belfast’s Michael Conlan, I am immensely proud of my Irishness. I am honoured to represent Ireland, but our participation in Irish life is restricted in a way that our fellow citizens in the south aren’t.”
Living in Co Dublin.
"The people who are most affected by the Presidency are those who live in Ireland. It would be anti-democratic to widen the voting pool to those with, perhaps, a sentimental or peripheral interest.
“There are many people now with Irish citizenship who have a tenuous and peripheral relationship with modern Ireland, particularly since Brexit. It is wonderful to have so many people who love Ireland but to give the vote to a huge number of people who do not live here or pay taxes here would seriously skew the system.
“You have to have a real stake in the system to be given the privilege of voting here.”
"All citizens should have a vote. Official Ireland and the political parties have effectively forgotten about the massive numbers of our people that have emigrated over the years. They occasionally pay lip service to them."
“Too many young people don’t come home. For too long emigration has been used as a safety release valve to take the pressure off governments. So yes, I say give all Irish citizens outside the State a vote.
Living in the Republic.
"Such a move would disenfranchise those of us who reside and pay tax here. It would almost guarantee a Sinn Féin candidate being elected."
Lving in the Republic.
"A simple rule of democracy: No representation without taxation. Many Irish citizens who have been abroad for many years may not be familiar with candidates in an election. In a tight election overseas votes could make a difference."
3. There are fears within the diaspora of the “conservative Irish” factor
Living in New Jersey, US.
"I'm a middle-aged New York-born child of an Irish parent who immigrated to NYC as an adult, who now lives part of the year in Ireland.
“The US diaspora is deeply rooted in the past. They don’t understand contemporary experiences with things like healthcare in Ireland, Brexit, the housing shortage, or the difficulties that Irish people have financing homes and businesses.
“They do have pubs in the New York area where IRA memorabilia is prominent, and fundraising events where Gerry Adams is given a hero’s welcome. Giving a couple of million of these people a vote in Irish affairs a deep concern to me.”
Living in Canada.
"Don't do it. Irish Americans are so conservative, and many are Trump supporters. People who don't live in the country should not have a vote for anything."
Resident in the Republic.
"I lived in the UK for 24 years. Prior to that, I lived in Kenya for 2 years. I also spent 17 years visiting my (US citizen) wife in the USA until she moved to Ireland in 2017.
“My experience of many Irish people in Kenya in the early 80s, and in the USA, leads me to be concerned about the often deeply conservative nature of Irish people abroad, particularly those who are second-generation. I feel it could have a negative impact on Irish political life.”
Living in Munich, Germany.
"I am strongly against giving all Irish citizens unrestricted voting rights. While I know that most countries award some voting rights, Ireland's diaspora is exceptionally big.
“The risk is great that external citizens would dominate election results. Northern Ireland is an additional problem. Do we want a Sinn Féin president elected by people voting outside the de facto state?
“There is also a real danger that right-wing Irish-Americans would organise a candidate. They are already interfering in Irish referenda with anti-abortion demonstrations etc. The presidential election is harmless, but that is certainly the thin end of the wedge; the aim is to push for a vote in general elections.”
4. Feelings of attachment and abandonment still run deep
From Dundalk who now lives in Vancouver, Canada.
"I would love to be able to have my say as I'm an Irish man. I believe people living outside will vote correctly because we are the ones who had to leave because of how the country is and because of all the corruption."
From New Brighton, United States.
“I first visited Ireland back in May of 2012 to see where my family was from and meet my Irish relatives. I have since gotten my Irish citizenship and an Irish passport and was back again last October.
“Although I feel a great connection to my ancestral roots, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be voting and shaping a country I don’t live in. I hope to live in Ireland in the future someday, but I don’t feel I should have a say in important issues your citizens face day-to-day.”
Moved from Ireland to France 20 years ago.
“I never miss voting in the Senate elections, and I follow Irish news and politics every day. I am Irish through and through. Not being able to vote in Ireland has always felt unjust, especially when friends of other nationalities speak of having a voice at ‘home’.
“I would love to vote in Presidential elections in Ireland and am particularly proud of the presidential choices Ireland has made since the 1990s. Long may it continue.”
Living in Auckland, New Zealand.
"My only engagement with my 'first' country - the place everyone I know associates me with as soon as I open my mouth- is when I renew my passport. A right to vote in presidential elections would be an authentic acknowledgement of my status as an Irish citizen."
Left Ireland over 45 years ago and now lives in Poole, UK.
“My ties with Ireland are of even greater importance to me now in these uncertain days. The ability to have a say - however small - in how our country is represented on the world stage is of huge importance to me.
“The impact, in particular, of Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese representing the country in very difficult times, has been extraordinary. How we see ourselves from outside the confines of our island existence could have a hugely beneficial effect for the country and its citizens… both at home and away.”
Living in London
"I think voting from abroad should be allowed. It keeps those living away somewhat involved in Irish politics and, perhaps, they would be more likely to return."