WATCH: Irish abroad step up campaign for right to vote

A referendum on voting rights for citizens living abroad is expected to be held in 2019

WATCH: Irish abroad step up campaign for right to vote

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny pledges to hold a referendum on the right to vote in presidential elections to Irish citizens abroad, 12-03-2017. Image: Tom Keenan/Merrion Street

Irish expats and emigrants  are set to step up their campaign to have voting rights extended to citizens living abroad.

While on his final State visit to the US in March this year, the former Taoiseach Enda Kenny pledged to hold a referendum on the issue.

Mr Kenny made the promise based on the 2013 Constitutional Convention recommendation that all citizens living at home and abroad should be given the right to vote in presidential elections.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Mary Hickman, a second generation Irish woman and chair of the  'Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad' (VICA) campaign group said citizens living outside the State should be allowed to vote in all elections and referenda:

"Only citizens," she said. "We are not saying the whole Irish Diaspora which is often said to be 70 million."

"Obviously within that 70 million you might have say three million or three-point-something million citizens - and that is made up of people who have left Ireland and people like myself [who are second generation Irish]."

She said extending voting rights would bring Ireland in line with around 130 other countries around the world that have already done so.

Swamping

She said her campaign understands the fears of those who believe home vote could be swamped by the millions of citizens living outside the country.

"I think that is a really justifiable fear," she said. "But we think Ireland should follow Italy and France and Portugal's example and have external constituencies."

In French general elections there are 12 constituencies reserved for citizens living aboard - with, for example, those living in Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltics all voting for one government representative.

Italy meanwhile has four overseas constituencies, divided by geographical location.

Ms Hickman's campaign believes designating a certain number of TDs as representatives of the emigrant vote would ensure the wishes of people living in Ireland would not be over overrun by those living abroad.

#HomeToVote

She said the appetite to open up voting rights was illustrated by the #hometovote movement during the marriage equality referendum.

"Most emigrants - particularly in the last seven or eight years - are rather dismayed and mystified that they have lost the franchise, lost the ability to vote because they are still so engaged with Ireland," she said.

"They want to contribute - particularly say with the marriage equality referendum last year and the upcoming one on reform of the eight amendment."

She said the issue of equality of citizenship is key for the campaign - adding that most countries around the world have already taken the view that the right to political participation is fundamentally linked with citizenship.

European elections

Meanwhile the Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has warned that there are over 331,000 Irish citizens living in the UK who will be prevented from voting in European elections following Brexit.

"Not only are they Irish citizens, they are also EU citizens," he said. "Currently they can vote in European Parliament elections while living in Britain. That is going to change because of Brexit and I believe their right to vote should be upheld.”

He said Ireland is one of four EU member states that does not allow citizens living outside the country to vote in their home EU elections.

He said the right to vote in European elections could be extended without the need for a referendum.