Only 58 prisoners voted in abortion referendum

Proportion of prison inmates casting postal ballots has declined over the past decade

Barely one out of every hundred prisoners voted in last month’s referendum on the Eight Amendment which saw a record turnout among the general population.

Of the 3,987 people in Ireland’s eleven prisons on May 25th, just 58 (1.45 per cent) used their vote. Of those 55 were male and three were female. The turnout nationally was 64.13 per cent, a record for an Irish referendum

Unlike many other countries, including the UK and most of the US, Ireland has allowed prisoners to vote since 2006 when it agreed to comply with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

However the proportion willing to use their right to vote appears to be falling. In 2007, just after getting the right to vote, nearly 12 per cent of prisoners voted in the General Election. In the 2011 General election this dropped to 6.87 per cent.


In the 2016 General Election it was 4.2 per cent.

Inmates use a postal vote based on where they would live if they were not in prison.

Not everyone in prison is eligible to vote. About 500 are foreign nationals who would not have a vote while those who recently arrived at a prison would likely not have time to register their postal vote.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) says it facilitates prisoner voting and that each prison has a stock of ballot application forms which are available on request.

All prisons have a designated official in charge of facilitating voting and prisoners have access to newspaper, television and radio to help them keep abreast of current affairs.

The IPS has previously said that it would welcome campaigners who wanted to canvass in any of its prisons and would make special arrangements.

It is understood no campaign groups visited the prisons in the run-up to the most recent referendum.

Executive Director of Irish Penal Reform Trust Deirdre Malone said there has been a significant decrease in prisoner voting in the last decade.

“That’s of real concern to us because it strongly suggests that whatever measures being taken in prisons to promote the use of the franchise are simply not working.”

Promotion of civic engagement in prison supports better reintegration into society, Ms Malone said.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times