Recent emigrants urged to return to vote on same-sex marriage

Irish man living in London set up Get the Boat 2 Vote campaign to encourage others to travel home

An Irish man living in London is organising a campaign to encourage recent Irish emigrants to return to Ireland to vote in the marriage equality referendum.

Joey Kavanagh (28), an arts administrator who moved to the UK last summer, said the lack of voting rights for the Irish abroad means the majority of people who have emigrated in recent years won’t be able to have their say in the upcoming referendum.

Voters will be asked on May 22nd to amend Article 41 of the Constitution to allow marriage between two people “without distinction to their sex”.

Mr Kavanagh plans to travel back to Co Meath to vote Yes, and set up the Get the Boat 2 Vote website (gettheboat2vote.com) to encourage other recent emigrants to do the same.

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“It’s inconvenient to have to travel all the way home to vote, so I figured we might as well make something of an occasion of the journey… I hoped to plant the idea in recent emigrants’ heads that, with a little planning, they can have a say,” he said.

Under section 5 of the Electoral Act 1963, Irish citizens living abroad retain their right to vote in elections and referenda for 18 months after leaving Ireland, if they intend to return to live here within that timeframe. There is no postal vote facility however, meaning if they do want to cast a ballot, they must return to Ireland to do so.

People living overseas for longer than 18 months cannot legally vote, but it is possible their name may still be on the voting register, Mr Kavanagh said.

Get the Boat 2 Vote has the support of We’re Coming Back, a group campaigning for Irish emigrant voting rights.

“Many Irish abroad see themselves returning to Ireland, so it seems quite unfair that they would be excluded from having a say in Ireland’s future. Here in the UK, for instance, British citizens can register as an overseas voter for up to 15 years after leaving the UK,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“I’m a gay man and I would like to think that some day I might be able to get married in Ireland and for that union to be seen as equal to any other marriage, in the eyes of the law.

“We hope to bring attention to the wider issue of emigrant voting rights and are exploring the idea of a meeting for those who return for the referendum to discuss the future of our participation in Irish democracy.”

Almost 200 people have signed up so far, with interest coming from Irish people living in Brussels, Singapore, San Francisco and Melbourne.

Mr Kavanagh said the organisers are examining the most cost-effective ways to get Irish people home to vote, and are hoping to organise a welcome party to “make it a fun experience for those who decided to make the journey home”.