Ireland’s Convention on the Constitution voted in favor of recommending the extension of voting rights in Presidential elections for Irish citizens who are resident outside of the State, including Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland.
The vote does not have legal power but will be presented along with many other provisions to the Irish government with a recommendation that the proposals approved are acted on.
The President of Ireland is a figurehead position with no direct political power but occupants such as Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese have used it to great impact to effect change across a broad range of issues in Ireland. The current president is Michael D. Higgins.
Over the weekend, Convention members were presented with a comprehensive overview of the current constitutional position relating to the issue, the potential impacts of the proposed changes, and other relevant electoral issues which emerged.
Throughout the two days, members of the Convention heard evidence relating to the issue presented by academic and legal experts. This included comparative international experience, more technical and practical electoral issues, and issues relating to Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland.
In addition, the opinions of representatives of Irish communities living in Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Northern Ireland, and the USA were heard live via video link-up.
Following a wide ranging discussion, members were presented with a number of options.
The first questions asked members:
- Should citizens resident outside the State have the right to vote in Presidential elections?
On this question members voted:
Yes - 78%
No - 21%
Undecided - 1%
- Should citizens resident in Northern Ireland have the right to vote in Presidential elections?
Convention members decided:
Yes – 73%
No – 20%
Undecided – 7%
The third question asked members:
- Which of these citizens living outside the island of Ireland should have the right to vote in Presidential elections?
o All Irish citizens resident outside the island of Ireland
o Just citizens who have lived in Republic of Ireland.
o Just citizens who have lived in Republic of Ireland as adults and who have left for a period of time (see below)
o Undecided/No opinion
On this, members voted:
o All Irish citizens resident outside the island of Ireland – 36%
o Just citizens who have lived in Republic of Ireland - 26%
o Just citizens who have lived in Republic of Ireland as adults and who have left for a period of time (see below) – 27%
o Undecided/No opinion – 11%
The final question asked members:
- If there should be a time limit on how long citizens resident outside of the island of Ireland can have a vote, what should that be?
o No time limit
o Voting rights only for 5 years abroad or less
o 10 years
o 15 years
o 20 years
o 25 years
On this, members voted:
o No time limit - 38%
o Voting rights only for 5 years abroad or less - 14%
o 10 years - 17%
o 15 years - 20%
o 20 years - 6%
o 25 years - 4%
Tom Arnold, Chairman of the Convention of the Constitution, said, “This has been a powerful weekend where we utilized new technologies to gather a broad range of views and opinions on the subject from around the world. Through our live video link-up with representatives of Irish communities in various parts of the globe, we were offered a unique and powerful insight into the views of the Diaspora on citizenship and their thoughts on the extension of voting rights.
“This is an incredibly important issue that is hugely relevant to thousands of Irish citizens living all over the world and this was very clear throughout the entire process. At the outset, we actively encouraged Irish citizens all over the world to engage with the issue and offer their views. We were astounded with the size of the response and the strength of opinion on the issue. In preparation for this weekend, we considered thousands of these responses and built them into our analysis.
“Following this outcome, we will now be lodging a formal report with Government notifying them of the recommendation of the Convention regarding Presidential voting rights for Irish citizens who are resident abroad.”