Belfast Telegraph

Referendum to give Irish presidential vote to people in Northern Ireland

By Christine Carrigan

A historic referendum could see people in Northern Ireland given the right to vote in the Irish presidential election for the first time.

The Irish Government is drawing up legislation for a referendum that, if successful, would give 1.87 million people here and 1.73m Irish citizens living around the world the franchise, allowing them to vote for the Republic's head of state.

Legislation is expected to be ready early next year so that the referendum can be held in May, alongside local and European polls.

The granting of voting rights to Irish citizens living outside the Republic was first recommended by the country's Constitutional Convention in 2013, which saw politicians discuss major reforms with 66 randomly selected Irish people.

However, it was stopped by Labour, then junior partner in a coalition government, which feared that it might favour Sinn Fein, as extending voting rights could have a significant impact on the outcome of a result.

There are currently 3.6m potential voters residing outside the Republic, compared to 3.2m eligible voters who live in the jurisdiction.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone welcomed plans for the referendum.

He said: "It is a welcome step and I look forward to it as a nationalist who has an Irish passport and identifies as an Irish citizen.

"I would like to think that, as an Irish citizen, I should be able to vote; it was inevitably going to happen and I am glad that it is being recognised."

Mr McGlone also pooh-poohed suggestions the move by the Dublin authorities could raise tensions in Northern Ireland.

He added: "I can't see how it would.

"If you want to participate you can. If not, then don't.

"No one will be forced to take part, it is about giving a vote to those who want it."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell was of a similar opinion that the vote wouldn't cause tension.

He said: "I think most people will largely ignore it. It is of no consequence to us. Apart from a few diehard nationalists who I could see voting, it wouldn't make a difference.

"Even if the people here or citizens living in Singapore or wherever vote, the president will be the president of Ireland, it won't have an effect on them.

"I think people internationally will think it is a bit bizarre that there will be more people who don't live in the country helping to decide, rather than those who live there."

The amendment to the constitution was announced in yesterday's Sunday Business Post.

Speaking to the newspaper, Irish Minister for the Diaspora Ciaran Cannon said that other options were being considered, including the option to vote at embassies.

He said: "That might seem practical, but if you are living in Ohio, it's a long drive to the Irish embassy in Washington."

Mr Cannon also stated that it was not possible to have the referendum for the upcoming presidential election on October 26, due to the complexities of organising the vote on a global scale.

He said: "It would require a long lead-in time. There has been an interdepartmental group working on this for over two years. I think the symbolism of it would be quite special.

"The Taoiseach has repeatedly used the phrase 'Global Irish Nation'. You do not have to reside on the island of Ireland to consider yourself truly Irish."

Belfast Telegraph

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