Irish officials in Brussels demand voting rights in Irish elections

Irish official expresses regret at failure of governments to address issue of voting rights

At least 20 Irish officials working in EU institutions, including the most senior Irish official in the commission, have written personal letters to the Taoiseach appealing to him to extend voting rights in Irish elections to them.

Their initiative was prompted by a recent circular to Irish officials in Brussels appealing for their support in Ireland’s bid to host the European Medicines Agency.

The email led to a response – copied into 400 Irish officials working in the European institutions – from an official working for the EU’s diplomatic wing, the EEAS, expressing regret at the failure of successive governments to address the issue of voting rights.

Maria McLoughlin wrote that before appealing for their support in the agency bid the Government should “first liaise with the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs to devise a regime, and to initiate appropriate legislation” to allow them vote in Irish elections either by post or at the Irish Embassy in Belgium.


Last week she wrote to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in a move that was “whole-heartedly” supported by among others the deputy director of the commission’s legal services Karen Banks, who is currently the highest ranking Irish official in the commission.

“We come to Brussels [or Luxembourg...] not with a view to participating in the political life of our host country, but in our capacity as Irish citizens who are lucky enough to have a job in an EU institution,” wrote Ms Banks.

“Throughout our time away from home we continue to follow political events there, to listen to RTÉ radio and read Irish newspapers, and it really hurts to be deprived of the right to vote...We never lose our sense of connectedness to our home country. Please don’t make us wait for retirement to be able to vote!”


Ms McLoughlin wrote that Irish diplomats and soldiers serving abroad were entitled to vote, and argued in her letter: “We are considered under the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities of the European Institutions as having maintained our domicile in Ireland rather than in the country of our workplace, whether that is Belgium, Luxembourg, another EU country, or outside the EU in the case of officials serving in EU delegations.

“Many of us are Irish civil servants on leave from, and with a right of return to, Irish government departments...All of us are engaged in public service to the European Union, which we see as an extension of our Irishness or indeed an integral part of it...”

She noted that the Taoiseach had announced the Government’s intention to hold a series of constitutional referendums next year, including one to extend voting rights to emigrants in presidential elections.

Postal voters

However, she said, extending voting rights to Irish EU officials would not require a constitutional amendment, merely an amendment to the Electoral Act 1992 to have EU officials “deemed to be ordinarily resident in Ireland” and to include them in postal voters’ lists.

Ms McLoughlin says she has also received expressions of support from two Irish MEPs, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy and Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes.

Only four EU states currently deny their citizens abroad the right to vote: Ireland, Malta, Cyprus, and Denmark.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times