AN OVERWHELMING majority of people in Ireland think the Irish abroad should be given a say in elections at home, according to a major poll.
More than three quarters of the Irish population think those who left home should be able to vote for the President and seven-in-10 think they should also have a vote in Dáil elections.
Authors of the University College Cork survey, which gathered the opinions of 933 households, claim to be presenting a definitive picture of public opinion on the issue in Ireland.
They have shared their findings exclusively with The Irish Post ahead of the Constitutional Convention’s make-or-break debate on votes for the Irish abroad this weekend.
Just one-in-six Irish households oppose giving Ireland’s sprawling emigrant communities a say in Presidential elections, the survey found.
But 79 per cent favour letting them have that right, with opinion split evenly between giving the Irish abroad the Presidential vote for life and letting them cast a ballot for a set number of years after leaving.
Resistance to letting the Irish abroad vote in general elections was stronger, accounting for the views of just over a quarter of households.
Yet opponents of the move, which has been backed by several Irish in Britain lobby groups, were still hugely outnumbered by its supporters.
Around a third of those quizzed thought Irish nationals should never lose their right to vote for a TD no matter where in the world they live and 36 per cent said the right should be limited to those who have emigrated within a set number of years.
The results also suggest that most people have a strong view on the issue, with only four per cent not giving an opinion.
They findings come at a time when emigration from Ireland has hit record levels and attention has been focused on Ireland’s poor record for enfranchising its citizens abroad.
Ireland is one of just four Of the EU’s 28 member states, Ireland is one of just four that does not let its citizens vote in Parliamentary elections from abroad.
Government Minister Brian Hayes told The Irish Post that the growth of social media has eliminated the need to extend voting rights to the Irish abroad.
But Senator John Crown said Ireland has a “responsibility” to its citizens abroad and must give them a voice in the Oireachtas.
“People who had personal experience of emigration and themselves had lived abroad, usually in England, felt passionately about this issue,” said Dr Irial Glynn, one of the survey’s authors.
“So did people with children abroad who felt they left because of the political choices that have been made.
“They said some of them felt forced to leave so they should have a say in what is going on here, especially seeing as so many of them want to come back.”
The majority of those who opposed the extension of voting rights said “no taxation, no vote”, he added.
Others suggested that the Irish abroad could be too inclined to vote for Sinn Féin and some respondents did not want emigrants to have a say in something like an abortion referendum because they might have “a more secular view”.
Dr Glynn said the results, which were gathered from a representative sample of households in 18 counties over the past six months, are a “broad reflection of opinion in general in Ireland”.