Up to a half million Irish people living in the EU should be able to vote in Dáil elections, and are being deprived of their rights at the moment, according to the European Commission.
There are just five members of the European Union whose citizens lose the right to vote in national elections when they move to another EU country, and this includes Ireland.
The Government is to consider proposals from the constitutional convention next month that all Irish people living in any part of the world (estimated to be at least 1.2 million) should be able to vote in presidential elections. But they have not made any such recommendation for national elections, where the number of potential voters born in Ireland could be close to half the 3.2 million registered voters in the country.
Now the European Commission has said Irish people living in another EU country who cannot vote in national elections are being deprived of their rights to free movement.
“The right to vote is one of the fundamental political rights of citizenship. It is part of the very fabric of democracy. Depriving citizens of their right to vote once they move to another EU country is effectively tantamount to punishing citizens for having exercised their right to free movement. Such practices risk making them second-class citizens,” said vice president Viviane Reding, the EU’s justice commissioner. She called on the Government to show greater flexibility and the commission is issuing guidelines to Ireland and to the other four countries (Denmark, Cyprus, Malta and Britain) to reform their rules.
Irish people can remain on the electoral register only if they are away for less than 18 months. Diplomats and army personnel serving abroad can vote, but not the estimated half a million living on continental Europe.
Ms Reding said one of the excuses given for depriving people of a vote is that citizens living abroad no longer have sufficient links with their home country, “but this is an outdated idea in today’s interconnected world”.
Citizens of most countries are able to vote by postal ballot or at their embassy while others have restricted rights, such as Germans, who must show they are familiar with and affected by national politics.
The guidelines include allowing nationals to have a vote if they retain an interest in the politics of their country, including by applying to remain on the voting register; allowing them cast their vote electronically; informing them how they can retain and cast their vote.
Currently, EU citizens can vote and stand as candidates in local and European elections in whichever EU country they live. Under EU rules that come into force this week, EU and non-EU citizens living in another EU country should find it easier to stand as a candidate in May’s European Parliament elections.
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