Transport Minister Leo Varadkar says he is personally in favour of allowing emigrants to vote in future Irish elections — but has insisted the call “is not tokenism”.
Speaking at the weekend, Mr Varadkar said the move would be “of real value” and “feed into the desire expressed throughout The Gathering initiative for closer ties with Ireland”.
He said it was his view that Irish citizens who have emigrated should be allowed to vote in presidential and Dáil elections.
And, despite concerns that little practical detail for how this could take place has been outlined, he argued the policy shift would “validate” the long-held connection between the Irish at home and those who have left for other countries.
“My own view is that I would like to extend the franchise for the presidency.
“I like the idea of the President being the president of the Irish people and the Irish nation,” he said.
“We would like to extend voting rights to all Irish citizens. I think it would be a nice thing to do and would be of real value.
“This would recognise, respect and validate the ongoing ties between the diaspora and the country. This is not tokenism.
“The president is the embodiment of the spirit of the Irish nation.”
If the suggestion is taken on board, Ireland would cease to be one of the few Council of Europe countries to not allow their citizens who live abroad to vote in domestic elections.
Currently, just four of the 47-strong group’s members — Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, and Greece — have this ballot ban in place.
In addition, the policy shift would see Ireland join the other 115 of the world’s 196 officially recognised countries which facilitate votes from abroad.
However, despite the benefits of the proposal — which has previously been raised by emigrant and Northern Irish groups — opposition politicians have raised concerns over the lack of practical planning for what such a potential move would mean.
Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly — who is the first person to be named spokesperson for the Irish overseas and the diaspora — said vital details needed to be addressed before Mr Varadkar’s plan could be taken seriously.
“Is the minister only going to give votes in Dáil elections to the Irish overseas?
“What about those living in Northern Ireland [who under article two and three of the Constitution are entitled to Irish citizenship], will they be allowed to vote?
“And how many seats in the Dáil does the minister think should be allocated to the Irish living outside the State?”
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