Referendum to allow emigrants to vote for president faces delay

Vote was to be held in November but likely to be squeezed out by Brexit and by-elections

The Government has published the Bill to pave the way for a referendum allowing emigrants to vote in presidential elections, but there is increasing doubt that it will take place in November as intended.

The Bill, which would allow citizens resident abroad to vote, must first be passed by the Dáil and Seanad before a referendum can be held.

It is likely to be debated by TDs and Senators in the coming weeks.

The proposal – approved by the constitutional convention in 2013 – would only see emigrants and citizens abroad and in the North given the right to vote in presidential elections, rather than in all elections.


Opposition leaders who met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Monday were told that more work needed to be done to prepare for the referendum, and sources expected it would not be completed in time for a November poll.

Unionist anxiety

Senior political sources – in both Government and Opposition – have questioned the wisdom of extending the presidential franchise to citizens in the North at a time of heightened unionist concerns about a united Ireland due to Brexit. There is some anxiety about unionist reaction to the prospect of Sinn Féin campaigning on an all-island basis for the presidency.

The Government declined to comment last night but it is thought that the focus on Brexit – and on the four by-elections scheduled to take place in November – will squeeze out plans for the referendum.

Sinn Féin welcomed the publication of the Bill to allow for the referendum.

In a statement, the party leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “Irish citizens living in the North and amongst Ireland’s diaspora have long campaigned for voting rights, rights that are the norm in other jurisdictions.”

She said the Government “must lend its full support to the campaign for a Yes vote and support the Bill’s passage through the Dáil and Seanad”.

“Voting rights for all citizens has been long fought for and hard-won. This referendum will provide us all with a historic opportunity to recognise the contribution Irish citizens make to our islands society, economy and diverse culture.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times