British passport holders in Northern Ireland should be able to vote in Irish presidential elections if the Republic presses ahead with plans to extend voting rights, according to a former Dublin senator from a unionist background.
Yesterday, the Republic's Foreign Affairs Minister reiterated his government's commitment to holding a referendum to allow Irish citizens living outside the State to vote in presidential elections.
It would mean the more than 830,000 Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland could cast ballots in the poll. Simon Coveney made the comments at a digital conference by VotingRights.ie yesterday discussing Irish citizenship, emigrants and voting rights post-Brexit.
Mr Coveney said: "Giving our citizens around the world a voice to the highest office in the State will strengthen the bond between all Irish citizens irrespective of distance or location."
Former president of the Ulster Farmers' Union and former member of the Irish Seanad Ian Marshall said voting rights for people in Northern Ireland was about bringing the Republic in line with other countries which give rights to its citizens abroad.
The Co Armagh man from a unionist background questioned whether British passport holders in Northern Ireland would be able to vote in presidential elections if they did not have an Irish passport.
"I think that raises a question that everyone should be entitled to vote," he said.
"There are those who will not want to exercise that right and that's understandable, but I think it raises a question of: is this only passport holders?"
Independent unionist Claire Sugden said she subscribes to the idea that she is both British and Irish and that she is keen to explore what this means. But she said if she was asked to vote for an Irish president tomorrow she would not know much about the process or the candidates.
She added: "I would have my concerns about it for a number of reasons because in theory, why not? But with everything to do with Ireland and Northern Ireland, it's complicated. It's complicated with a past and it's all those things we have to take into account."
Sinn Fein senator Niall O Donnghaile said the Irish government now has the opportunity to prepare for a referendum and to channel away "any negativity or ignorance out there" about the matter.