Varadkar plans referendum on extending presidential voting rights

Question will ask if Irish citizens outside the State should be allowed to vote for president

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a visit to the association’s Memorial Hall in Londonderry. Behind is an effigy of ‘Lundy’, regarded as a traitor by loyalists during the Siege of Derry in 1689. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A referendum will be held next year to ask whether the right to vote in the presidential election should be extended to Irish citizens living outside the state, the Taoiseach has said.

Speaking at a dinner in Derry on Friday, Leo Varadkar said the next round of referenda was "pencilled in" for the same time as the European and local elections in May 2019.

He was speaking before the results of an Irish Times exit poll which published on Friday, which shows Michael D Higgins is set to be returned as President with a huge majority.

"One of those questions will be to open up the franchise, when it comes to electing the next President, to Irish citizens who live outside of the 26 counties. "That's Irish citizens who live here in Northern Ireland, Irish citizens who live around the world."


The Taoiseach said there had been a movement to modernise Ireland’s constitution over the past few decades, and it would create an opportunity “to elect a president who will represent not just the state but the whole Irish nation on this island and around the world.”

Acknowledging a reference to the DUP MP Sammy Wilson by a previous speaker at the dinner, the Taoiseach said: "Therefore it is not inconceivable perhaps in seven years' time that all of you here will have the opportunity to vote for president Wilson, should he put his name forward."

Voting in presidential elections is currently limited to citizens resident in the Republic of Ireland. If upheld, the referendum would give Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland and around the world the right to vote in the next Presidential election in 2025.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times