Coveney publishes an Options Paper on extending the eligibility for citizens resident outside the State to vote at presidential elections
Minister Simon Coveney has today (22 March) published an Options Paper which sets out how the recommendation of the Convention on the Constitution that citizens resident outside the State be given the right to vote at presidential elections might be realised.
The Options Paper will inform the public discussion around this significant policy change. Other countries give citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in their national elections and I think it is important that Ireland should do the same for our people. However, as a nation that has always been outward looking we have a strong representation all over the world with a significant number of citizens resident outside the State (3.6 million) compared to the population of the State (4.8 million). This makes our circumstances quite exceptional but I think that it’s time to move forward on the matter of extending the franchise at presidential elections to citizens resident outside the State. This is something that I personally have advocated for many years and I’m committed to taking the necessary steps towards such a change.
Two years ago (February 2015) the Government agreed that before a decision could be made on the matter of holding a referendum, the many considerations that would arise in implementing such a significant change in the franchise, if it was approved by the people in a referendum, needed to be analysed in detail. It is clear from the Options Paper that the many logistical challenges in extending the franchise could be met over time, with the necessary resources.
Minister Coveney referred to the Convention’s recommendations, saying that:
Clearly many questions will be asked when the Government announces a decision to accept in principle the recommendation of the Convention on the Constitution and a decision to hold a referendum. I hope the Options Paper will go some way towards answering questions arising.
The Government views the Options Paper as an opportunity to inform the public discourse and the further discussion with the diaspora at the Global Irish Civic Forum in May. After that we will report to Government on the discussion at the Civic Forum with a view to identifying the preferred option to be put to the people in a referendum. Then work can begin on drafting a constitution amendment bill in readiness for a referendum. In the meantime my Department will initiate work on modernisation of the register of electors.
Irish citizens aboard are part of a global Irish family – we need to reach out to them in a tangible and real way, not only looking for their support but also giving them a say in important decisions for Ireland. That is the context I am proposing a generous and forward looking approach to allowing Irish citizens abroad to vote in Presidential elections,
...concluded the Minister.
Notes for Editors
· The Options paper is available on the Department’s website here.
· Summary of the seven options:
1. All citizens resident outside the State;
2. All citizens on the island of Ireland, and all citizens outside the island of Ireland for a period of time who have lived in the State;
3. All citizens on the island of Ireland, and all citizens who have left the island in the previous 15 or 20 years;
4. All citizens on the island of Ireland, and all citizens resident outside the outside the island of Ireland who hold a valid Irish passport;
5. All citizens resident outside the State who were previously registered to vote in the State;
6. Citizens resident outside the State who were born on the island of Ireland; or
7. All citizens on the island and all citizens resident outside the island of Ireland who were born on the island or who have lived on the island for at least one year.
A detailed breakdown of the issues to be considered under each of these options is available at pages 14 to 25 in the Options Paper.
· When the Government has decided on the preferred option for amendment of the constitution, to be put to the people in a referendum, work will begin on the drafting of a constitution amendment bill. The Bill would be examined in the Dáil and in the Seanad.
· When a constitution amendment Bill is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas it must be put before the people in accordance with the Constitution and in accordance with the provisions in electoral law for the holding of a referendum.
· A date for a referendum will be decided by Government in due course. Even if a referendum was held in the short term, and passed, it would not be feasible to have comprehensive arrangements for an extended franchise in place for the presidential election to be held in 2018. The next presidential election would be due to be held in 2025.