The Irish government will not hold a referendum on the right of emigrants to vote in presidential elections in 2017 as had been promised, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has announced. In July the Irish Minister of State for the Diaspora Joe McHugh vowed that a referendum on the issue was planned for early next year, but that commitment has now been shelved. Speaking in the Dail, Kenny claimed that the necessary changes to the Constitution to extend the vote to Irish citizens overseas could not go to a referendum and then be implemented in time for the next presidential election in 2018. Unlike 125 other countries Irish emigrants can only cast a vote for 18 months after they first move abroad, and to vote they must be physically present in Ireland on election day.
Kenny told the Dail that he was still committed to holding a referendum on the issue of Irish emigrants voting for the president and had recently met with McHugh to request that the research being done on the issue by an interdepartmental group conclude 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 who were born in Northern Ireland should also be included in the vote, Kenny said, and their participation, “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,” he concluded.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who raised the voting issue in the Dail, was outraged, describing Kenny’s response as “unacceptable and deeply disappointing.”
“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,” he 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.”
The right of citizens in the North to vote in presidential elections “should not be dictated by how much it might cost,” Adams added.
In 2013 the Constitutional Convention recommended that Irish emigrants be given a vote in presidential elections after the European Commission strongly criticized Ireland for disenfranchising its own citizens living in other EU countries by not providing them with voting rights.
Meanwhile, speaking to The Irish Times, McHugh, who visited Boston last week, said the interdepartmental group’s report will be presented at the Global Irish Civic Forum in Dublin next February, where about 200 emigrant representatives are scheduled to meet.