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88% of Irish in Britain likely to be excluded from Presidential vote

Chairman of the Constitutional Convention Tom Arnold
Chairman of the Constitutional Convention Tom Arnold

THE vast majority of Irish people in Britain could be excluded from having a say in Presidential elections in Ireland – despite the Constitutional Convention overwhelmingly backing a move to allow the Irish abroad to vote for the head of state.

After impassioned pleas from people around the world, more than three quarters of the Convention’s delegates said Irish citizens abroad must be allowed to vote for the President.

However it also demanded that a time limit be put on that right.

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According to the 2011 Census, some 360,000 Irish-born people have lived in Britain for more than 15 years.

Now, as a result of the Convention’s decision to back at most a 15-year limit on votes for the Irish abroad, all those people, who account for a staggering 88 per cent of the Irish in Britain, are likely to miss out on the chance to vote for Ireland’s President in the 2018 election because they have been here too long.

Some 60 per cent of the 100-strong Constitutional Convention panel were opposed to giving the Irish abroad the right to vote for life.

Of that, half felt that only those who had been living abroad for 15 years or less should be able to vote for the President.

The Constitutional Convention, a 100-strong panel of Irish citizens and politicians tasked with recommending changes to Ireland’s 75-year-old Constitution, met in Dublin to debate the issue.

Irish in Britain, the umbrella group for Irish organisations here, spoke at the Convention as an advocate for the Irish living here.

Chief Executive Jennie McShannon told The Irish Post she was “really pleased” with the support given to the issue of votes for the Irish abroad.

“The principle was seen as inarguable and that was extremely positive and rewarding,” she said.

However she added that she would expect people to be left “bitterly disappointed” if they ended up missing out on the chance to elect Ireland’s President because they left home too long ago.

Ms McShannon, who gave a speech supporting the idea of letting the Irish in Britain vote for the President, said she would be “really shocked” if a time limit was imposed.

“The older Irish community, as much as the younger Irish in Britain, see the Irish President as their President and therefore they should absolutely have an opportunity to support them,” she added.

“The Presidential position is a really important one for the Irish in Britain, whether they left in 1950 or they left last year. It is critical that that should not be forgotten or overlooked.”

In the weeks running up to the Convention’s latest meeting, scores of older Irish people told The Irish Post that they desperately wanted the chance to vote for their President.

Some said they had felt “cheated” by the fact they lost their right to vote the minute they emigrated and referred to themselves as the “forgotten Irish”.

One, London-based Limerick man John Giltenan, said that a vote in Presidential elections was “the least that could be done” to recognise those who sent home large quantities of the money they earned in Britain.

The Constitutional Convention also voted on which Irish citizens abroad should be able to vote for Ireland’s President.

By a margin of 53 to 36 they opposed allowing second and third generation Irish passport holders take part in Presidential elections.

The Constitutional Convention will now summarise its findings in a report that will be passed onto the Irish Government, which is obliged to consider the proposals.

If Government agrees that the recommended reforms should be considered, a referendum will be held.

Ireland is one of just four EU member states that currently does not let its citizens abroad vote in elections at home.

 

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Niall O Sullivan
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Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

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