Tuesday 20 February 2018

Leo wants poll next year on giving diaspora Aras voting rights

SEAL OF APPROVAL: Leo Varadkar has called for a poll in 2018 so Irish citizens living abroad can vote in presidential elections
SEAL OF APPROVAL: Leo Varadkar has called for a poll in 2018 so Irish citizens living abroad can vote in presidential elections
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

A referendum to allow 3.6 million Irish citizens living abroad to vote in presidential elections is being considered with next year's abortion ballot.

And the Government has now stepped up plans to modernise the official 'registration process' to hold the vote "as soon as practicable".

This includes examining systems in other countries that allow citizens outside the State a vote in national referendums. Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny previously stated his government would back such a poll and his successor, Leo Varadkar, is keen to put the issue to the electorate on the same day as the referendum on the Eighth Amendment next year.

The potential number of Northern Irish and overseas Irish citizens voting in a domestic election could eclipse the 3.2 million on the register residing within the State.

However, experts stress that even if a referendum is held immediately and passed, it will not be feasible to extend the franchise by the time of the next presidential election in November 2018, should one occur.

The Department of Foreign Affairs insists that no decision has been made on the "timing" of the vote to extend voting rights, but refused to rule out holding the referendum on the same day as the abortion ballot.

It said that the Government would, in the autumn, be looking at a "schedule" for the number of referendums.

A spokesperson also confirmed that it is currently liaising with the Department of Housing, Planning and local Government.

A report will be brought to Government that will identify a "preferred option" to be put to the people.

"On a recent visit to diaspora communities in Chicago and Milwaukee, Minister of State, Ciaran Cannon, reiterated his personal commitment to extending the right to vote in presidential elections."

In a statement to the Sunday Independent, a spokesperson stressed the Minister is eager to hold a referendum "as soon as practicable".

The Department of Housing said it has already begun improving the process for the registration of voters.

The Constitutional Convention recommended in 2013 that voting should be extended to the diaspora, bringing Ireland in line with more than 125 countries that have extended their franchise.

However, it will be 2025 at the earliest before overseas citizens will be eligible to vote - if the referendum is passed.

It could cost up to €21m to include the diaspora.

In the UK, Canada and Australia, expatriates are permitted to vote - but only a fraction actually do so.

Sunday Independent

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