Northern Ireland

Call to extend Irish voting rights to citizens outside state

Irish parliament debate
Image caption Members of the cross-party committee discussed the creation of a new "Northern Ireland constituency" with the power to elect its own representatives to the Dáil

Irish citizens living outside the Republic of Ireland should be granted the right to vote in Irish elections, according to a parliamentary committee.

The recommendation included voters in Northern Ireland.

The issue was examined by members of the Irish parliament's Joint Committee of European Union Affairs.

It recommended extending voting rights in both parliamentary and presidential elections and discussed the option of a new "Northern Ireland constituency".

Dual rights

The committee has now called on the Irish government to set up a new electoral commission, to take the proposal forward and investigate in detail the necessary infrastructure and constitutional changes required to extend the vote.

Committee members discussed a range of potential scenarios, including the possibility of a Northern Ireland constituency that would have the power to elect its own representatives to the Irish parliament (Dáil).

The idea was not mentioned in the final report, but the chair of the committee, Dominic Hannigan, said the issue emerged during their meetings.

He said they discussed a range of options for potential northern voters, such as whether a new, separate constituency should be created north of the border, or whether Northern Ireland's 18 Westminster MPs should simply be given dual speaking and voting rights in both Dublin and London.

Mr Hannigan, from the Irish Labour Party, said the latter option was suggested by Sinn Féin members of the committee.

Sinn Féin currently has five MPs who do not take their seats at Westminister, in line with the party's long-standing policy of abstentionism.

Passport holders

Mr Hannigan said it would mean that for the first time, unionist MPs would have the right to debate and vote in the Dáil, although he accepted that "not all MPs" in Northern Ireland would take up the offer.

He also said that decisions about who would be allowed to vote in the elections would have to be fully examined by any new electoral commission, but he suggested that holding an Irish passport could be used as one example of eligibility criteria.

Mr Hannigan said it was important that Irish citizens living outside the state were given a stake in the affairs of their homeland.

The committee was given the task of examining voting rights after the European Commission criticised the Republic of Ireland for failing to provide voting rights for Irish citizens living in other EU countries.