Aoife Loughnane looks at the Taoiseach’s newly unveiled referendum plans and explores what this will mean for the Irish diaspora.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has announced that a referendum will take place on whether to extend the right to vote in the Irish presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside of the State.
This will include citizens living abroad, as well as those living in Northern Ireland.
Mr Kenny announced these plans last week while in Philadelphia, and says that the referendum will take place in advance of the 2025 presidential election.
“It is an opportunity for us to make our country stronger by allowing all of our citizens resident outside the State, including our emigrants, to vote in future presidential elections,” Mr Kenny said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released the following statement outlining their knowledge of the eligible Irish citizens figures abroad.
“Initial estimates are that 1.73 million citizens reside outside the island of Ireland. This figure does not include many people who may be entitled to Irish citizenship through descent. In addition, the Good Friday Agreement recognises the right of people in Northern Ireland to identify as British or Irish or both in respect of citizenship.”
However, globalirish.ie estimates that there could be up to 70 million people of Irish descent worldwide who could potentially claim citizenship.
The referendum breakdown
The Irish Independent makes the point that this is not particularly a new idea as there are 115 states globally with some form of voting for non-resident citizens.
However, many of these countries do not have the same percentage of population emigration as Ireland. According to the Central Statistics Office, approximately 80,000 Irish people emigrate every year.
In relation to how each Irish citizen will be able to cast their vote if this referendum is passed, Minister of State for the Diaspora Joe McHugh told RTÉ that online voting is being considered by the Government.
An options paper will be published in the coming weeks detailing voting procedures and eligibility by the Department for Housing, Planning and Local Government.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said that “this paper will set out a range of different options for voting and voting eligibility and will discuss the policy, legal and practical issues involved in granting voting rights in the Presidential elections to Irish citizens living outside the State, including those in Northern Ireland.”
The undocumented Irish
The topic of migration was one which remained at the fore during Mr Kenny’s US trip last week.
The Taoiseach began his five-city American visit in Philadelphia by attending the city’s 274th St Patrick’s Day parade.
His visit culminated in his attendance at the White House the day before St Patrick’s Day, where he presented US President Donald Trump with the traditional bowl of shamrocks.
Prior to his visit, the Taoiseach vowed to raise the issue of Trump’s immigration ban in relation to the undocumented Irish living in the United States.
The government released a statement saying, “the Taoiseach will use each of these opportunities to emphasise the strength of Irish-US relations and our Brexit priorities, and to continue to advocate for immigration reform to assist the many thousands of undocumented Irish in the US.”
There are an estimated 50,000 Irish people currently living in the United States illegally, and at risk of being deported if President Trump follows through on his pledge to round up undocumented immigrants.
In his speech at the St Patrick’s Day luncheon, Mr Kenny implored President Trump to provide these undocumented Irish with a path to citizenship.
Mr Kenny promised to “work diligently in this regard” with the US and stressed that “the Irish who have contributed so much will be a part of that and we look forward to the works that will take place in the time ahead.”
“We would like to sort this out, it would remove a burden off so many people, ‘Now I’m free and I can contribute to America as I know I can.’ That’s what people want,” Mr Kenny said to a round of applause.
“There are millions out there who want to make America great again,” the Taoiseach concluded.
The reaction to Mr Kenny’s speech has been mixed. The New York Times said ‘Irish Premier Uses St. Patrick’s Day Ritual to Lecture Trump on Immigration’ and criticized the Taoiseach for failing to mention the Muslim countries that have been affected by Trump’s travel ban.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has warned Mr Kenny that he will not support a deal that only protects illegal Irish immigrants.
“It’s not a case of picking and choosing. There are 11 million people in the US who do not have the required documentation,” Mr Walsh said.
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