By Colin Gannon
A majority in Ireland support extending presidential election voting rights to Irish citizens abroad and in Northern Ireland, according to a recent opinion poll on the subject.
If approved at the proposed referendum in October, Irish citizens living outside the country, will, for the first time, be able to vote in a presidential election.
Presently, Irish citizens living abroad are unable to vote in Dáil elections, presidential elections or in an Irish referendum.
A Behaviour & Attitudes poll for Irish edition of The Sunday Times has found that two out of three voters – 65 per cent – indicated they would vote yes to the proposal to allow Irish citizens living outside the state to vote in presidential elections, while 22 per cent will vote no and 14 per cent are undecided.
Older, rural voters support this constitutional change least, the poll suggested.
Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and Green Party supporters all back the proposal in equal measure — 68 per cent — with slightly lower levels of support among Fianna Fail (65 per cent), independent (65 per cent) and Labour Party (61 per cent) supporters.
The poll was conducted with 930 Irish voters over 13 days to March 12 in face-to-face interviews.
The referendum to extend presidential voting rights to citizens overseas was due to be held in May but has been postponed until October because of the legislative burden facing the Oireachtas in preparing for a possible no-deal Brexit. It is likely to be held alongside a referendum on the constitutional reference to the role of women in the home.
Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA), a London-based group led Irish studies professor Mary Hickman, has campaigned since 2011 for Irish citizens living abroad to be given the right to vote.
The campaign group’s entry in the London parade last weekend was created as a celebration of the contribution of Irish citizens in the UK, “who represent Irishness globally but are denied a vote”.
Our ballot box made waves at the @StPatsDayLDN parade yesterday – we believe allowing Irish citizens abroad to cast a vote for President would build even stronger connections for the global Irish.#VotefortheVote #StPatricksDay #paddysday #enduringconnections #irishabroad pic.twitter.com/Lqypnv6BSJ
— VICA Campaign (@VICAcampaign) March 18, 2019
Float organiser and VICA member, Alan Flanagan, told the Journal.ie website that Ireland has been “out of step with the rest of Europe and the world for too long”.
“When Irish football captain Seamus Coleman can’t cast a vote for President, the franchise isn’t living up to the promise made by our nation’s founders,” he said. “A yes vote in this year’s referendum would send a powerful message to Irish citizens across the world.”
Graham Butler, associate professor of law at Aarhus University in Denmark, told the Sunday Times that extending voting rights to more than half a million non-nationals could be a better way to enhance democracy than including Irish citizens abroad in presidential elections.
“There is an assumption every Irish citizen overseas wants to vote in Irish elections,” said Butler.
Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people attended St Patrick’s Day parades in cities, towns and villages across the country — and around the world — to celebrate Ireland and its patron saint.
In his traditional St Patrick’s Day message, President Michael D Higgins said: “May I send my warmest greetings as Uachtarán na hÉireann, president of Ireland, to all our extended family across the world.
“Wherever you may be, and in whatever circumstances, you are part of Ireland’s global family joining with us as we celebrate our shared Irishness, its culture, heritage and history.”
President Higgins and his wife Sabina Coyne joined crowds in the city centre for the country’s largest parade, which started at noon and was led by Nial Ring, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and the comedians Deirdre O’Kane and Jason Byrne — who were the grand marshals on the day
Leo Varadkar said in his message that reaching out to the 70 million people in the diaspora who call Ireland home was very important, especially on St Patrick’s day.
‘Get out of Ireland’
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has been told, by Ireland’s Tanaiste, Simon Coveney, that she needs to “grow up”, after she posed with an “England get out of Ireland” banner at the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York last weekend.
The official Sinn Féin Twitter account posted a picture of the party president holding the sign with the caption: “No explanation needed” on Saturday afternoon during the parade.
Although the banner has been carried at the New York parade for decades, the photograph has been criticised by politicians on both sides of the border. Simon Coveney, tánaiste and the minister for foreign affairs, said: “This is not leadership. It’s offensive, divisive and an embarrassment. Grow up, this is not Ireland 2019. We are better than this.”
Sinn Féin defended the post and accused its political opponents of “faux outrage”.
Gregory Campbell, of the DUP, said the “no explanation needed” caption summed up the party’s attitude to explanations, truth and respect.
“When slogans such as ‘Brits out’ or ‘England out of Ireland’ are used, the unionist community are well within their rights to see themselves as the intended focus. The ‘British presence in Ireland’ is the unionist population in Northern Ireland,” he said.
In response to the post, Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader, said Sinn Féin was incapable of convincing unionists of anything. “The rest of us will have a lot of heavy lifting to do,” he said.
Sinn Féin said the photograph was in line with the party’s stance. “The most divisive and offensive act on this island for almost the last 100 years has been the partition of Ireland,” a spokesman said. “It should come as no surprise that Sinn Féin wants a new united Ireland under the provisions of the Good Friday agreement.”
Sinn Féin urged Mr Coveney to make a united Ireland a priority for his government. “The faux outrage of some of our political opponents owes more to the silly season of a holiday weekend,” the spokesman said.
Banners with the “England get out of Ireland” slogan have appeared in the New York St Patrick’s Day parade since the 1940s. The Friends of Irish Freedom group carried a version of the banner in the 2014 march.
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