Sinn Fein Senators continue to fight for the extension of Presidential Voting Rights to the people of the north and the Irish diaspora, despite the Irish government’s announcements last month that there will not be a referendum as previously announced. Last week Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile addressed the Senate, arguing for a change to voting rights. In a statement he wrote “We sought to enfranchise Irish citizens with the most basic tenet of any democracy, the right to vote. This demand is a long-standing one that comes from our energized global diaspora and the outworking of the Good Friday Agreement almost 20 years ago.”
Currently, unlike 125 other countries, Irish emigrants can only cast a vote for 18 months after they first move abroad. After this they must be physically present in Ireland on election day. For many years groups have been campaigning for these rights to be extended. In 2013 Ireland’s Constitutional Convention recommended that Irish people abroad should have a say in constitutional votes and until just weeks ago it seemed that this motion was supported by the government.
In July 2016 Irish Minister of State for the Diaspora Joe McHugh vowed that a referendum on the issue was planned for early in 2017. This 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.
Last week Senator Ó Donnghaile wrote that while he was encouraged by Fine Gael Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney’s commitments to the topic during the Senate debate he wrote, “Fine Gael’s amendment to our motion, in practical terms, appears to delay this urgent and much-needed democratic change even further. That is unfortunate, it is regressive and it will not be well received amongst those Irish citizens in the north and the diaspora who continue to be left behind by this government.”
He added that Fianna Fáil must explain why they too changed their direction on the topic and “collaborated with Fine Gael to once again long finger this issue of fundamental rights, equality, entitlement and citizenship.
“It is up to Fianna Fáil, when they travel around the Irish diaspora next St. Patrick’s Day or actually deliver on their long-standing intention to seek election in the North, to tell Irish citizens why they support the continued denial of their rights.”
Last week Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Fein deputy leader, accused Fianna Fail and Fine Gael of “walking off the pitch” on the issue.
Fianna Fail Senator Mark Daly told the Irish World, “It is three years or more since the constitutional convention had its meeting and produced its fifth report, yet the government has not moved forward, other than to say there are issues of a technical and legal nature. To put it mildly, in the year of 2016 this is disgraceful.”
He added “The fact it has also not come up with solutions but problems and does not have a real and practical road map is a failure of the government to extend the rights of citizens in terms of the right to vote.”
Here is Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile speech, opening the debate on his Private Member's Motion in the Senate to extend the franchise in Presidential Election all Irish citizens: