Right of Irish expatriates to vote

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At most elections in the Republic of Ireland the electoral register is based on residential address, and the only non-resident voters are those serving abroad on government business; this includes Irish diplomats and their spouses, and Defence Forces and Garda Síochána personnel but not their spouses.[1][2][3] An exception is in elections to the Seanad (upper house) for which graduates voting in the university constituencies (National University of Ireland and Dublin University) may be nonresident.[1][4] A government bill introduced in 2019 proposed allowing non-resident citizens to vote in presidential elections.[5]

Expatriates intending to return to Ireland within eighteen months may retain their Irish address for electoral purposes, but must be present to vote in person.[2][6] Maintenance of the electoral register is inefficient and emigrants often remain listed years after leaving; some return specifically to vote, which is technically illegal but difficult to enforce.[6] There is no requirement of residency for public representatives. Martin McGuinness, as a Derry resident, could not vote in the 2011 presidential election, in which he came third out of five candidates.[7] Chicago resident Billy Lawless was a Taoiseach's nominee to the 25th Seanad.[8]

Debate on extending the franchise[edit]

Since the 1990s there have been proposals to allow emigrants to vote in elections to the Dáil (lower house) or Seanad, generally via a dedicated (single transferable vote multi-seat) constituency.[9] Groups established by economic emigrants leaving the 1980s recession have advocated for change.[10] A related issue is a proposed right of people in Northern Ireland to vote in the Republic.[11] Arguments in favour of expatriates voting include the economic and cultural importance of the Irish diaspora and the potential benefits of increasing its engagement with the state, and a moral debt owed to reluctant emigrants.[12] Arguments against include the possibility of the emigrant vote swamping residents, and that emigrants' views may conflict with residents'.[13] Of 70 million nonresidents claiming Irish ancestry, 3 million have Irish citizenship including 1 million who have lived in Ireland.[13] Most proposals would enfranchise only the subset of this 1 million who left Ireland a limited time before. The number is still large relative to a resident population (including children) of 4.8 million;[14] however, Iseult Honohan suggests that swamping could be prevented by making emigrants vote in a dedicated emigrants' constituency rather than in the constituency of their last Irish residence, so that expatriates would have lower apportionment than residents.[13] The Irish government is responsible to the Dáil, so proposals to allow expatriates to vote for the Seanad or the figurehead office of President would provide symbolic inclusion without jeopardising government stability.

Oireachtas elections[edit]

The Oireachtas (parliament) committee on the constitution considered the matter in 2002; it recommended no extension of the franchise, but that among the senators nominated by the Taoiseach (prime minister) should be "a person or persons with an awareness of emigrant issues".[15] In 2014, the Oireachtas joint committee on European Union (EU) affairs considered a European Commission communication on "the consequences of disenfranchisement of Union citizens exercising their right to free movement", and recommended that Irish citizens abroad should have the right to vote in Dáil elections.[16] In 2015, a report on reform of the Seanad commissioned by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny recommended that senators on vocational panels should be directly rather than indirectly elected, from an electorate extended "to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and to holders of Irish passports living overseas".[17]

Presidential elections[edit]

The Constitutional Convention in 2013 recommended allowing expatriate citizens to vote in presidential elections;[18] In 2017 the government agreed to this, published a position paper listing seven options for eligibility criteria and associated implementation measures, and promised a constitutional referendum on whichever option it would select, to be held alongside the 2019 local election.[19] In February 2019, the government decided that, due to the urgency of dealing with Brexit, the referendum would be postponed; it also agreed that the proposal would be "an extension of the franchise to all citizens resident outside the State, including citizens resident in Northern Ireland".[20] The resulting bill was introduced in the Dáil in September 2019.[5]

EU elections[edit]

The 2021 report of the Seanad committee on Brexit noted a democratic deficit created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which leaves Northern Ireland subject to some EU rules despite no longer participating in EU decision-making. Among the mitigations suggested in the report was allowing Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland to vote in elections to the European Parliament.[21]



  • Oireachtas All-party committee on the Constitution (2002). "Chapter 4: Northern Ireland and emigrant participation in national political life". Seventh Progress Report: Parliament (PDF). pp. 40–59. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 October 2013.
  • Honohan, Iseult (2011). "Should Irish Emigrants have Votes? External Voting in Ireland" (PDF). Irish Political Studies. 26 (4): 545–561. doi:10.1080/07907184.2011.619749. hdl:10197/4346. ISSN 0790-7184.
  • Working Group On Seanad Reform (2015). "Report" (PDF). Department of the Taoiseach. Retrieved 23 April 2018.


  1. ^ a b "External voting: a GlobalIrish.ie factsheet". www.globalirish.ie. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b Oireachtas All-party committee on the Constitution p.55
  3. ^ "Registering to vote". Dublin: Citizens Information Board. 29 March 2018. Overseas voters. Retrieved 23 April 2018.; "Electoral Act, 1992". Irish Statute Book. ss.7–14. Retrieved 23 April 2018.; Brady, Tom (16 May 2007). "Military spouses living abroad are denied vote". Irish Independent. Retrieved 23 April 2018.; "Other Questions [9344/04] — Postal Voting". Dáil Éireann Debates. Oireachtas. 25 March 2004. Vol.582 No.5 p.13 cc.1343–1344. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  4. ^ Working Group On Seanad Reform p.44 "non-resident graduates can register to vote in the university members elections at present"; "Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act, 1937". Irish Statute Book. ss 7, 20. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019 – No. 68 of 2019 – Houses of the Oireachtas". Bills. Oireachtas. 16 September 2019. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  6. ^ a b Hickey, Shane (24 May 2018). "The vote: returning emigrants warned of 18-month rule". The Irish Times. Retrieved 24 May 2018.; Kenny, Ciara (10 February 2018). "Illegal emigrant voting: How #HometoVote could backfire". The Irish Times. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  7. ^ Brennan, Michael (28 October 2011). "McGuinness unable to vote for himself". Irish Independent. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  8. ^ Kenny, Ciara (3 June 2016). "Billy Lawless: the emigrant Senator". The Irish Times. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  9. ^ Honohan 2011 p.14 of preprint
  10. ^ Hickman, Mary (10 November 2015). "Why it is finally time to give Irish emigrants the vote". The Irish Times. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  11. ^ Oireachtas All-party committee on the Constitution p.40
  12. ^ Honohan 2011 pp.15–16 of preprint
  13. ^ a b c Honohan 2011 p.16 of preprint
  14. ^ "Population and Migration Estimates". Central Statistics Office. April 2017. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  15. ^ Oireachtas All-party committee on the Constitution p.59
  16. ^ Joint Committee on European Union Affairs (November 2014). "Report on Voting Rights of Irish Citizens Abroad" (PDF). Oireachtas. Retrieved 23 April 2018.; Kenny, Ciara (13 November 2014). "Irish emigrants should have right to vote, report says". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  17. ^ Working Group On Seanad Reform 2015, p.9
  18. ^ "Fifth Report: Amending the Constitution to give citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections at Irish embassies, or otherwise". Convention on the Constitution. November 2013. Archived from the original on 6 November 2017. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Coveney publishes an Options Paper on extending the eligibility for citizens resident outside the State to vote at presidential elections". MerrionStreet (Press release). Government of Ireland. 22 March 2017. Retrieved 23 April 2018.; Ruth, Maguire. "Announcement by the Taoiseach on Voting Rights in Presidential Elections for Irish Citizens outside the State" (Press release). Department of the Taoiseach. Retrieved 23 March 2017.; "Postal Voting". Written answers. KildareStreet.com. 17 April 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2018. the proposed referendum on extending the franchise at presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State which it is intended will be held on the same date as the local and European elections in late May/early June 2019
  20. ^ Phelan, John Paul (20 February 2019). "Referendum Campaigns:". Written answers. KildareStreet.com. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  21. ^

See also[edit]