Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams described Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s rejection of a promised referendum next year on the right of the diaspora and Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland to vote in presidential elections as “unacceptable and deeply disappointing.” The Sinn Féin leader also criticized the announcement by the Taoiseach ruling out a referendum before the next presidential election in 2018. In his response to a question from the Sinn Féin leader, the Taoiseach blamed the delay in holding the referendum on the need for officials to determine who would be included in a new franchise, what categories of people would be covered, and the cost of the venture.
Kenny, according to an Irish Times report, said he was still committed to holding a referendum on the issue of emigrant voting for the president and had recently met with Diaspora Minister Joe McHugh to request that the research being done by an interdepartmental group be concluded soon.
“We need to look at the scale of what is involved, the number of citizens to whom the franchise might be extended, and what the impact might be on the electorate and the administrative and cost implications that could arise,” Kenny said.
“Issues that need to be considered are whether all citizens outside the State have the right to vote in presidential elections, if they should be limited to a particular category, or if it should be citizens who have been absent from the State for a set period.”
People born in Northern Ireland should also be included, the Taoiseach said, but this “would have to be looked at in the context of the Good Friday Agreement.
“In respect of the 2018 election, the time would be very short to go through all of these considerable challenges, set it out and have it implemented. I might be wrong but my feeling is that it would not be possible,” Kenny added.
Adams was not impressed and said by way of response: “The Taoiseach’s response was inadequate and deeply disappointing. The right of citizens in the North to vote in presidential elections should not be dictated by how much it might cost.”
He added: “The Constitutional Convention voted on this issue three years ago in September 2013. A significant majority of its members agreed to extend voting rights to Irish citizens living abroad and in the North.
“In November last year the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs made a recommendation to extend the voting rights also, following criticism by the European Commission.
“The government has had three years in which to answer the questions the Taoiseach is now posing as if for the first time. This is not good enough. Kenny cannot say he is for a referendum on extending the franchise in Presidential elections and then thwart the process by which it can be established.”
The Co. Louth TD stated that on two occasions this year Minister McHugh had indicated that the Irish government would hold a referendum in early 2017.
“Sinn Féin believes that Irish citizens living and working outside of the state, and in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, those living in the North should be able to vote in presidential elections,” Adams said.
“The diaspora is a fundamentally important part of the Irish nation, in both historical and contemporary terms.
“Extending voting rights and allowing the Irish diaspora to express their democratic voice is a sensible and inclusive action which would improve and strengthen our relationship with the diaspora.”
According to the Irish Times report, more than 125 countries have provisions for their citizens to vote from overseas. Irish emigrants can only cast a ballot for 18 months after they move abroad and must be in Ireland on election day in order to do so.
Meanwhile, speaking at a seminar on voting rights for emigrants and young people in Dublin organized by the National Youth Council of Ireland and University College Cork, Dr. Theresa Reidy from the Department of Government at UCC said it was time for the government to come good on its promises.
“We have heard all of the arguments about how it is too complicated, the diaspora is enormous and dispersed across the globe, Northern Ireland poses an unusual set of circumstances, registration would be too complex,” Dr. Reidy said.
“These questions are aired as though Ireland is a state on Mars and these types of issues have not been considered and addressed in a variety of different ways by other democracies. A decision needs to be made with a detailed implementation plan in time for the 2018 presidential election.”
This article first appeared in the Irish Echo. For more stories, visit their website here.