Ireland is out of step with the majority of democratic countries in disenfranchising citizens once they move abroad, the Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) campaign said on Wednesday.
The comment came ahead of a Dáil debate on Friday on a report by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs, published last November, that recommended 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 with voting rights.
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.
VICA chair professor Mary Hickman welcomed the committee's recommendation that voting rights be extended to Irish people living abroad and called on the Government to address the matter urgently .
“We saw during the marriage equality referendum the appetite, both at home and overseas, for Irish people living abroad to be given the vote,” she said.
About 110,000 messages using the #HomeToVote hashtag were posted on Twitter over three days last May around the same-sex marriage referendum.
Barry Johnston, who has been working in human rights advocacy in London for the past four years and is originally from Co Roscommon, said many fellow emigrants are very frustrated about the issue of voting rights.
“We’re very keen to tap up the Irish emigrant for money and jobs and opportunities. We kind of seem to use our diaspora as an ATM and the only return you get from that is a candle lit in Áras an Uachtaráin,” he said.
The Irish electoral system needed to “catch up” with the fact that Irish emigrants are very clued in to what goes on in Ireland, he added.
“There’s a changing demographic among people who have moved abroad. They’re returning more often, they’re more engaged in campaigns because of social media, they know what’s going on so this idea that they’re gone and forgotten is a nonsense.”
Mr Johnston said he felt like a second-class citizen because he does not have a vote.
“There’s nothing unique or special about us that we can’t do this while 123 other countries can.”
He said he hoped enough people were interested in the debate on Friday and enough politicians were there to make sure the issue of voting rights for Irish people living abroad was placed in party manifestos.
The National Youth Council of Ireland also called for voting rights for Irish people living abroad, saying it was one of many key issues affecting the current wave of young Irish emigrants.
Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan told the first Global Irish Civic Forum at Dublin Castle last June that the Government was considering extending voting rights to Irish emigrants for three years after they leave the country without holding a referendum on the issue.
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.