How Irish expats could soon be given a vote in the nation's presidential elections


Almost four million Irish citizens living outside of the republic will be able to vote in the nation's future elections if a historic ballot passes in October.

Irish voters are to decide on whether or not to extend the vote in presidential elections to Irish citizens abroad in October.

And empowering millions of Irish emigrants with a vote in the nation’s presidential elections is of “immense importance” to tens of thousands of citizens living in Australia, according to Minister for the Diaspora and International Development Ciarán Cannon.

Mr Cannon, in an exclusive interview with SBS News, dismissed fears that overseas voters would “overwhelm” the democratic process.

“We think it's perfectly appropriate and indeed desirable that those 3.6 million citizens who live outside the republic should have a role to play in deciding who is our first citizen," the Minister responsible for helping to double Ireland’s “sphere of international influence” by 2025 said.

"That person who best embodies who we are as a people, and reflects the new Ireland, a contemporary Ireland, of the 21st century.

Minister for the Diaspora and International Development Ciarán Cannon said Ireland had pledged $20 million to help nations battle climate change.
Minister for the Diaspora and International Development Ciarán Cannon said Ireland had pledged $20 million to help nations battle climate change.
SBS News

“I sometimes feel people abroad are better attuned to what's happening on the ground than perhaps some of those living in Ireland, so I think they have a legitimate viewpoint as anybody else and they do have that right, that entitlement.”

While Ireland’s population is 4.7 million, the Irish diaspora numbers 70 million worldwide, with an estimated 2.5 million Australians claiming Irish heritage, including 100,000 people born on the island of Ireland.

Voting rights for the diaspora has been a hot-button issue since the 1980s, with parliamentarians split over whether the right to decide the nation’s President should be extended to Irish emigrants, including those living in neighbouring Northern Ireland.

Ballot background

In March 2017, the Irish government committed to a referendum asking if the Constitution should be amended.

The ballot, originally slated for June, will now be held in October, with opinion polls suggesting it is likely to succeed - dramatically increasing the size of the electorate by the time the change kicks in from 2025.

“Some people are concerned that the large electorate abroad will somehow overwhelm those voting on the island” Mr Cannon said.

“Statistically, that just doesn't stack up and we must be able to reassure people that that’s just not numerically possible.”

“In the main the response is positive, but we can't become remotely complacent - we need to run a very, very strong campaign and continue to advocate for a positive outcome.”

What do Irish Aussies think?

Archaeologist Billy Ó Foghlú moved to Australia seven years ago.

“It’s just a complete smack to the head of culture when you come here”, he told SBS News.

“I could have never gone to a place like Weipa and worked with traditional owners there back in Ireland - Cake York is almost the size of Ireland.”

Irishman Billy Ó Foghlú now calls Australia home.
Irishman Billy Ó Foghlú now calls Australia home.
SBS News

Originally from County Waterford in South-East Ireland, the PhD student at Canberra’s ANU has uncovered more than artefacts in his travels.

“I was only three months here and then someone suggested a blind date and then I met my fiancé.”

“I had no idea I'd find the love of my life here - but I did.”

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings in Dublin.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings in Dublin.

He is supportive of moves to give Irish expats a vote in the nation’s Presidential elections.

“I had no idea how absolutely engrained you can become here as well, while still maintaining all your cultural links back home.”

Double Ireland's global footprint

As the nation emerges from what Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has described as “a lost decade”, Ireland has pledged to double its global footprint by 2025 with plans to rapidly develop new air and sea connections and establish 26 new diplomatic missions, including new embassies in Chile, Colombia, Jordan, Philippines, and New Zealand.

“I firmly believe, as does our Taoiseach, our Prime Minister, that Brexit presents us with an opportunity to move the relationship between Australia and Ireland to the next level,” Mr Cannon said.

“We would be exceptionally supportive of a very successful Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the European Union and we would be advocating for that in Brussels.”

“Irish investors, Irish exporters, increasingly see Australia as the ideal location to base themselves for their first presence here in the Southern Hemisphere and the Asia Pacific region and we increasingly want to position Ireland, in a post-Brexit context, as the perfect launch-pad for Australian investors into that extraordinary market of 450 million people in Europe.”

“I've spent a lot of time in this region over the last six months visiting a number of Pacific Island states and a lot of them have voiced a concern that with Britain leaving the European Union - a critically important interlocker for them in Brussels in terms of the relationship with the European Union – and we are more than willing to step into the void, and be that friend, and be that ally - for them and indeed Australia.”

“We are now building a very strong alliance with Pacific Island states who, unfortunately, to this point, have been the victims of climate change.”

Could Brexit reignite tensions in Northern Ireland
Could Brexit reignite tensions in Northern Ireland

Mr Cannon told SBS News that Ireland had pledged $20 million over the next six years to help Pacific Island nations battling climate change.

“We see that as our responsibility - as global citizens and as an island state of the edge of Europe which is also seeing the impact of climate change, albeit not to the extent as this part of the world,” he said.

“We do feel it is important small island states around the world do begin to speak with one voice on the responsibilities that we all bear to address this overwhelming, incredibly important challenge, essentially, of our generation.”

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