Can the Irish abroad currently vote in Irish elections?

No. If you are an Irish citizen living abroad you cannot be entered on the Register of electors. This means that you cannot vote in an election or referendum in Ireland. (The only exception to this is in the case of Irish officials on duty abroad (and their spouses) who may register on the postal voters list).[1]

What does the constitution say on the matter?

The franchise for the Dáil, (and thereby for Presidential elections and referenda) is governed by article 16 of the Constitution which states:

1° Every citizen without distinction of sex who has reached the age of twenty-one years,
and who is not placed under disability or incapacity by this Constitution or by law, shall be
eligible for membership of Dáil Éireann.

ii such other persons in the State as may be determined by law, without distinction of sex who have reached the age of eighteen years who are not disqualified by law and comply with the provisions of the law relating to the election of members of Dáil Éireann, shall have the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann.

To date, the Oireachtas has interpreted “All Citizens, and such other persons in the state” to mean that only citizens in the state can vote. The ambiguity of this clause could theoretically form the basis for a legal challenge. However, there is some legal opinion that the Supreme Court would be unlikely to challenge the Oireachtas’ interpretation in practice. That would leave a constitutional amendment as the only route to enfranchising the Irish abroad.

How does this compare with other countries?

115 countries around the world make some provision for emigrant voting.[2] Within the EU, the only exceptions are Ireland and Greece.[3] The Greek law was recently found to be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.[4]

What is the Irish Government’s position on the enfranchisement of Irish citizens abroad?

Former Foreign Minister Micheál Martin said in January 2010 in response to a question from Finian McGrath:

The question of voting rights for Irish citizens living abroad was most recently considered in
2002, by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. In relation to emigrant participation in
political life, the Committee concluded that the right to vote in Oireachtas elections should
remain confined to citizens ordinarily resident in the State.

However the renewed Programme for Government, agreed in October 2009, mandates
that recommendations should be made on the feasibility of extending the franchise for
Presidential Elections to the Irish abroad. It will be the responsibility of the Department of
Environment to progress this issue.[5]

There have been no substantive moves since that announcement, so future progress will depend on the new Fine Gael/Labour coalition.

What was the position of the parties contesting the 2011 Dáil election?

Fianna Fáil: Manifesto states “We support the extension of the franchise for presidential elections to all Irish citizens including emigrants. “[6] As Noreen Bowden has noted, it is not clear whether this is intended to include Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland, or Irish citizens who have never lived in Ireland.[7]

Fine Gael: Manifesto supports “Reducing the Voting Age to 17 and Giving Citizens the Right to Vote at Irish Embassies in the Presidential Election: If this experiment is deemed a success Fine Gael will consider extending this practice to general elections.”[8]

Labour: In February 2011, the Irish Independent reported Labour’s Ciaran Lynch as saying that his party would extend the franchise to emigrants for up to five years.[9]

Green Party: Manifesto proposes to “investigate the feasibility of facilitating the election of a number of Senators by Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and overseas.”[10]

Sinn Féin: Manifesto commits to “Extend the right to vote to Irish citizens living and working outside of the jurisdiction as is the norm in most modern democracies. Models in place in other countries should be examined to find the best model to apply here that could involve restrictions based on the length of time that a person has been abroad.”[11]


[1] Registering to Vote, http://www.citizensinformation.ie
[2] External voting: A GlobalIrish.ie factsheet, GlobalIrish.ie
[3] Ireland has most restrictive expat voting rights in EU, GlobalIrishVote.com 21 December 2010.
[4] Greek expatriate’s inability to vote in national elections breached convention, hellenesonline.com, 30 July 2010.
[5] Dáil Written Answers, Tuesday, 19 January 2010, Department of Foreign Affairs, Election Management System, KildareStreet.com
[6] Fianna Fáil, 2011 Manifesto, Real Plan, Better Future, p.30
[7] Emigrant Voting Rights: A Party Guide, GlobalIrish.ie, 9 February 2011.
[8] Fine Gael Manifesto, p.63.
[9] Paul Melia and Edel O’Connell, ‘New Irish’ boost voter numbers by 15,500, Irish Independent, 8 February 2011.
[10] Green Party Manifesto, Renewing Ireland, p.13.
[11] Sinn Féin Manifesto: There is a Better Way, p.14.

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