Overseas voters to outnumber those in Ireland under planned change to presidential election
A majority of voters in presidential elections could be living outside of Ireland under plans to extend the franchise to the diaspora.
The Government sees next year as a "realistic" target for holding a referendum on voting rights, with any changes taking effect in time for the 2025 election.
Among the options being considered is allowing Irish citizens overseas to cast their ballot online.
Sources told the Irish Independent that "conservative figures" compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs suggest there are 1.73 million citizens resident outside the State, excluding Northern Ireland where there potentially are 1.8 million eligible for Irish citizenship.
Announcing the plans while in Philadelphia, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the decision to hold a referendum would send emigrants "a big signal" and act as "an appreciation of how important they are to our Irish family".
Extending the franchise to the diaspora will give rise to a range of legal, policy and practical issues. Work is to quickly commence on modernising the voter registration process in preparation for a potential Yes vote in a referendum.
An 'Options Paper' will be published in the coming weeks setting out key areas for debate. The move is likely to be particularly welcomed by Sinn Féin, which got almost 250,000 first preference votes in the recent Northern Ireland elections. Gerry Adams's party also has a stronger network in the United States than other political parties in the Dáil.
However, Mr Kenny last night sought to play down suggestions that the move could benefit one party substantially more than others.
"I don't think it will favour any individual party, Northern Ireland patterns, that vote obviously speaks for itself," he said.
Asked whether the referendum would take place in 2018, the Taoiseach replied: "That's realistic, I would think."
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny moves to Boston today, where he will discuss the plight of the 50,000 undocumented Irish in the United States with Mayor Marty Walsh. The Taoiseach has said that finding a way of legalising their status would make America a better country.