Referendum on emigrant vote ‘unlikely’ this year - Deenihan

Diaspora strategy to include initiatives to help Ireland connect with communities overseas

A referendum on whether to permit Irish citizens living overseas to vote in presidential elections is "unlikely" to be held this year, Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan has said.

The decision on whether to hold a referendum was due to be made before Christmas, but the matter has not yet been discussed by Cabinet.

Speaking to The Irish Times after a round-table discussion on diaspora affairs in Dublin Castle yesterday, Mr Deenihan said two referendums, on marriage equality and the age qualification of presidential election candidates, would be put to the people next year, and "logistically it would be very difficult" to hold a third.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is working on a proposal for overseas voting which will be discussed by Cabinet before the summer, Mr Deenihan said. However, this will not be included in the Government’s new plan for diaspora policy, due to be published in the coming weeks.



More than 120 countries have provisions for their citizens abroad to cast a ballot, but Ireland does not currently allow emigrants to vote in presidential or Dáil elections.

A report by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs recommended in November that Irish emigrants be granted the right to vote. This followed criticism from the European Commission, which said Ireland was "disenfranchising" its citizens living in other EU member states by not providing them voting rights.

The diaspora strategy review, due to be brought to Cabinet on January 27th, features a series of “action-driven” initiatives devised following consultation with groups working with Irish people abroad, the Minister told the Global Ireland gathering of ambassadors and Irish community representatives.

It will include plans for a “civic forum” of representatives from Irish welfare, business, sport and cultural organisations around the world, which will meet in Dublin in March or April to share knowledge and experience.

It also outlines proposals for "an orientation course on what it is to be Irish" for young people with a connection to Ireland, similar to the Israeli Taglit-Birthright scheme which has seen more than 400,000 young Jewish people visit Israel over the past 15 years.

Other initiatives include an alumni programme to maintain connections with international students who have spent time in Ireland, and a dedicated diaspora section in local enterprise offices to help counties connect with members of their community involved in business overseas.

“That connection is huge, that connection with where you were born, the village, the town, the county,” Mr Deenihan said.

An inter-departmental action group, chaired by the Minister, will meet twice a month to ensure the policies outlined in the diaspora plan are being implemented.

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Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine