There have been increasing calls for a referendum to allow northerners and emigrants the right to vote in the Irish presidential election.
A debate took place in the Seanad [Senate] this week, calling for an extension of voting rights in the case of a Presidential election.
The Presidency has long been considered a means to ‘reach out’ to the diaspora and the broader definition of Irishness.
However, only those voters currently registered in the 26 Counties with the opportunity to visit their local polling station on polling day can cast a ballot in the election.
The debate this week sought to shine a light on the contradictions inherent in this policy.
“Extending presidential voting rights to Irish citizens living in the Six Counties is a natural outworking of the Good Friday Agreement which enshrines the rights of people in the north to Irish citizenship,” said Sinn Fein Senator David Cullinane.
“The President of Ireland represents all Irish citizens and so all citizens should have the right to decide who the president should be. This should also include the Irish diaspora.
“Sinn Fein will continue to campaign on this issue. At the heart of this campaign is equality. We want to see all Irish citizens given the right to vote for a president that will represent the whole island of Ireland and all Irish people.”
Caitriona Ruane, Sinn Fein Assembly member in south Down who attended the Seanad debate, said it was time to bring to an end the denial of voting rights in Presidential elections for northerners.
“The Irish Government is committed through the Good Friday Agreement to provide equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities in the North of Ireland,” she said.
There were some signs of progress on the issue this week with a government commitment that a mooted constitutional convention could consider the issue of voting rights, including those of Irish citizens in the north, for future Presidential elections.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was responding to a question on the matter by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.
In his reply the Taoiseach said had had “given consideration to the Deputy’s suggestion”.
“It is right that the constitutional convention should consider this matter. I hope to announce the establishment of the convention after the Presidential election. Obviously, I will consult the Opposition leaders before doing so.”
A petition campaign has been set up to extend voting rights to the north of the island has already been backed by a range of prominent individuals in the North, as well as by Sinn Fein and the SDLP. The campaign website is at https://onevoteonevoice.com