Irish emigrants should have right to vote, report says

Oireachtas committee says Irish abroad ‘should continue to have a stake in future of country’

Voting rights should be extended to Irish citizens living abroad, an Oireachtas committee has recommended.

In its Report on Voting Rights of Irish Citizens Abroad, to be published later today, the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs said "Irish emigrants should continue to have a stake in the future of their home country".

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

The Oireachtas committee review was prompted by criticism from the European Commission earlier this year, which said Ireland was "disenfranchising" its citizens living in other EU member states by not providing them voting rights in national elections.


“Such disenfranchisement practices can negatively affect EU free movement rights,” it said.

At the Constitutional Convention last year, 78 of 100 members voted in favour of extending the franchise to the Irish abroad for Presidential elections.

The Oireachtas committee heard from Dublin-based ambassadors for other EU member states, Irish political parties, political geography lecturer Dr Adrian Kavanagh from NUI Maynooth, and chief executive of Irish in Britain Jennie McShannon while compiling their report on the issue.

The committee heard Ireland is among a minority of EU member states that does not allow its citizens abroad to vote. There is a consensus among academics that a case may eventually be taken to the European Court of Justice challenging the restriction on voting rights, which may force those states to change their laws.

Issues such as the definition of citizenship, time limits on the right to vote after a person moves abroad, and reserved constituencies for Irish citizens overseas should be examined when designing a system to extend the franchise, to ensure the impact on election outcomes would not be disproportionate, the report said.

Committee chairman Dominic Hannigan said many recent Irish emigrants are living in countries outside the EU such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and "the issue of voting rights for Irish citizens resident in other EU countries cannot be separated from the wider issue of voting rights for Irish citizens resident abroad more generally".

He said an electoral commission should be set up to consider how the vote could be implemented.

“The Committee does not want a situation where we extend the right to vote to Irish emigrants abroad only to be followed by a miniscule turnout.”

Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan said last week that the Government would make a decision before Christmas on whether to hold a referendum next year to permit Irish people living overseas to vote in presidential elections.

The Minister said he saw no reason why the vote couldn’t be extended to Seanad elections, which “could evolve to [A]vote in the Dáil election”.

Mr Deenihan is looking at the French model where seats are reserved in parliament for nationals living abroad but he said a diaspora vote in the Dáil election was not being considered right now.

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