Irish citizens in North unlikely to have vote in European elections

Sinn Féin wants Ireland’s new MEP seats to go to North but there are several obstacles

Micheál Martin referred to how tens of thousands of people from Northern Ireland hold Irish passports and therefore were “Irish citizens” and “European citizens”. Photograph: Alan Betson

Micheál Martin referred to how tens of thousands of people from Northern Ireland hold Irish passports and therefore were “Irish citizens” and “European citizens”. Photograph: Alan Betson

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An internal Government note appears to dampen hopes that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will be allowed to vote in European elections post-Brexit.

The Government has identified a series of obstacles to the proposal, which are aimed at giving a EU franchise to Northern Irish residents after the UK leaves the European Union next March.

Ireland is getting two additional MEPs when the UK leaves, bringing its total representation to 13, while Northern Ireland will lose its three seats in the European Parliament.

Sinn Féin has called for the new MEP seats to be given to Northern Ireland.

An internal government note has revealed, however, that major changes to Ireland’s electoral laws would be needed for this to happen.

“From a practical franchise perspective, there would be a number of challenges associated with such a proposal given our electoral laws, as they currently stand, do not provide for voting from outside of the State, except in very limited circumstances,” the note reads, giving the example of diplomats and members of the Defence Forces serving overseas.

Because of this there would be a need to set up an electoral register for such a purpose and to establish criteria around the eligibility to vote.

Clarity would also be needed around who would maintain the register. Currently each local authority compiles and maintains a register of its own administrative area. Constituencies would have to be agreed, and it would also have to be agreed how a person would vote in practice, for example with a postal vote.

Rules would also need to be set out in relation to who would have responsibility for the counting of votes, which is currently carried out by local returning officers.

Changes to Act

“In brief, the allocation of European Parliament seats to Northern Ireland would require a number of key policy decisions to be made by Government which would likely give rise to substantive changes to our European Parliament Elections Act 1997,” the note reads.

The note states that the issue of allocating Irish European Parliament seats to Northern Ireland was not considered by the European Parliament Constituency Committee during its deliberations on the review of European Parliament constituencies “on the basis that this issue was outside of its terms of reference”.

The issue of potentially changing allocation will probably become an issue for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Sinn Féin previously accused the Taoiseach of leaving Irish citizens from Northern Ireland behind by not allowing them to vote in European elections after Brexit.

MEP Martina Anderson said the Irish Government could change its electoral rules with the “flick of a pen” to enable people north of the Border to vote in future European Parliament polls.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has also proposed that even after the UK quits the European Union, Northern Ireland should continue to have representation in the European Parliament.

Mr Martin referred to how tens of thousands of people from Northern Ireland hold Irish passports and therefore were “Irish citizens” and “European citizens”.

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