Referendum on votes for the Irish abroad to be held

Enda Kenny in Philadelphia

THE dedicated campaigning by members of the Irish diaspora across the world—including several groups in Britain—for the right for Irish citizens abroad to vote in Irish elections has been given a boost with the announcement that a referendum on the issue will be held.

If the referendum passes the motion it would mean Irish citizens across the globe will be eligible to vote in Presidential election, and with Michael D Higgins’ seven-year term due to end next year, it could mean that the Irish abroad are able to participate in the democratic process as early as October or November 2018.

The move would also mean that Irish citizens north of the border will be able to cast their ballot in the presidential election, and both the SDLP and Sinn Féin welcomed the move.
The announcement was made in Philadelphia, as Taoiseach Enda Kenny participated in St Patrick’s Day celebrations with the Irish American community.

“Today’s announcement is a profound recognition of the importance that Ireland attaches to all of our citizens, wherever they may be,” Mr Kenny said. “It is an opportunity for us to make our country stronger by allowing all of our citizens resident outside the State, including our emigrants, to vote in future presidential elections. It is appropriate that this announcement is being made here in Philadelphia, where the Irish have made such a mark over the centuries. There is no more fitting time or place, as we look forward to our worldwide celebration of St Patrick’s Day and of all that is Irish.

This decision by the Government is a clear recognition of the importance that Ireland attaches to her citizens, wherever they may be. You are part of who we are as a people, what we have done and where we have gone in the world. We will make that connection ever stronger for the future.”

Among the words of welcome were the comments from Gerry Adams and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, with Mr Eastwood saying that the enfranchisement of the diaspora would represent ‘a significant endorsement of the principle of self determination that secured support for peace in the north if our Irish citizens were given the right to choose our president.’

Mr Adams, meanwhile, spoke of the long-awaited move, saying that Sinn Féin ‘has been pressing the Irish Government since the Good Friday Agreement to allow for citizens in the north and in the diaspora to have the vote in presidential elections.’

How the right to vote would be exercised in Scotland remains to be outlined, but if the referendum approves the proposal it might mimic the voting system currently enjoyed by the Polish community in Scotland, who vote online through approved Polish institutions across the county.

The prospect of an online vote is one which was specifically mentioned by the Taoiseach (above), who concluded: “If you take a welder in Alaska or a farm worker in Queensland, Australia, they may not be in a position to travel to an individual centre so we will have to explore all of the opportunities that exist here.”

Ireland’s ambassador in London, Dan Mulhall, spoke of the warm reception such news will receive from the Irish communities across Britain, as he said on Twitter: “This will be welcomed by our community in Britain. Voting rights is a subject often raised with me here.”