Diaspora group calls for immediate change to voting rights for Irish emigrants

Ireland, Slovakia and Cyprus are the only EU countries who ‘deprive their overseas citizens of the vote’, says campaign group votingrights.ie

Ireland’s electoral system is “the most restrictive in Europe”, and the current regulations are “outdated”, a campaign group calling for the extension of voting rights to Irish emigrants has said.

The group, called votingrights.ie, wrote a letter to Tánaiste Micheál Martin last week, expressing their “disappointment” that a referendum granting citizens living outside the State the right to vote in future presidential elections “has been kicked to touch once again and is now scheduled for 2025″.

“This suggests the earliest these citizens will be able to vote for a president is 2032. The Convention on the Constitution recommended voting rights for all citizens living outside the state in 2013,” the letter said.

“A total of 19 years will have passed before these Irish citizens will be given the opportunity to participate in a presidential election.”


The campaign group, which was founded by former senator Billy Lawless, said of the 14 European Union member states that hold direct presidential elections, only “Ireland, Slovakia and Cyprus deprive their overseas citizens of the vote”.

“The Government currently maintains electoral regulations that are outdated and restrictive to citizens living outside the State. Specifically, the regulations that Irish citizens who do not intend to return home to Ireland within 18 months are ineligible to vote are highly restrictive,” the letter said.

“Ireland’s electoral system is the most restrictive in Europe, denying emigrants the vote in local, national or EU parliamentary elections, thus violating the EU’s core principle of freedom of movement.”

The campaign group said it believes there should not be any time limits placed on voters who are away from the country on voting day.

“This affects not only Irish citizens living abroad, but also their family members who may be abroad for life events such as births, deaths and marriages,” it added.

“The requirement that one must be on the island, and on the right side of the Border, to vote is a form of geographical gerrymandering. The continued refusal to grant non-resident citizens the right to vote is a sign of parochialism that further divides. It is hard to promote a shared Ireland when your own citizens aren’t allowed to vote for their own president.”

Votingrights.ie made a number of recommendations to the Tánaiste in the letter, including expanding the use of absentee ballots that are currently available for members of the Defence Forces and diplomats serving abroad.

“Ireland often describes itself as a small nation that punches above its weight. Yet when it comes to voting rights for all citizens living in Northern Ireland or abroad, the State does not even punch at all,” the letter said.

“Democracy is being challenged around the world, from the Ukraine to the United States. Millions of people are struggling to have their voices heard. In this situation we would hope that the Irish State would find a new sense of urgency to advance a broad democratic reform agenda that would make Ireland a modern, 21st-century democracy.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs was contacted for comment.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times