A majority of people in the Republic of Ireland support extending voting rights in presidential elections to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and those living abroad, according to a new survey. The study was conducted on the eve of a major online conference on citizenship and voting taking place on March 1. (More details and registration at CitizenshipPapers.ie)
56% of people support extending the vote to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK with just 39% against, while 52% of people support extending the vote to all Irish citizens abroad.
The government has committed to holding a referendum on extending voting rights in presidential elections to all Irish citizens before 2025.
This is the second year in a row that a majority have expressed support for this issue, with a February 2020 poll showing 55% were in favour of extending voting rights to all citizens outside the state.
Billy Lawless, former Senator for the Diaspora said: “We are pleased that the majority support giving Irish emigrants and citizens living in Northern Ireland the right to vote in future presidential elections. This is consistent with past polls. This conference is the start of our campaign for the upcoming referendum on giving all citizens the right to vote in presidential elections. We also call on the government to stand up a Citizen’s Assembly on voting rights and election reform. This model and approach has been very successful in the past, allowing for a variety of perspectives to be aired, and the public tends to follow the debate closely. Finally, we need strong leaders in Ireland to enable change – people like Emma DeSouza, who took up a tireless fight for her Irish citizenship to be recognised.”
The poll also shows considerable support for giving Irish citizens in Northern Ireland designated seats in the Seanad, with 49% in support of the measure and 43% against. Meanwhile, 41% would be in favour of giving Seanad representation to Irish citizens abroad.
Citizenship campaigner and Vice Chair of VotingRights.ie Emma DeSouza said: “It is encouraging and reaffirming to see continued support for extending the presidential franchise to all Irish citizens resident outside the State, in particular I welcome and note that that support is even higher for those of us resident in Northern Ireland and the UK.
“I also welcome the support for designated Seanad seats for Northern Ireland, many, including myself, were disappointed and surprised by the absence of any Northern representative in the Seanad nominations, particularly given the current political climate with both Brexit and the possibility of future constitutional change dominating much of the political discourse across this island. Northern voices are needed now more than ever, the absence of a diversity of Northern voices representing the diverse communities in the North can be felt in the current political discourse over the Northern Ireland protocol.
“Brexit has undeniably impacted citizenship and identity in Northern Ireland with over 800,000 people now holding Irish passports. As more and more people claim their birthright to be a part of the Irish nation it is incumbent on all of us, but in particular the Irish government, to engage in a meaningful conversation about how this ever-growing population can be represented and engaged with.”
Noreen Bowden of VotingRights.ie said: “As Ireland continually seeks to deepen its relationship with the Irish abroad, it’s heartening to see this support for emigrant voting rights in presidential elections, and not surprising. The #hometovote movement in recent years was such a powerful demonstration of the commitment of the Irish abroad, their investment in Ireland’s future, and their regard for the vote. We’re confident that as Ireland continually seeks to deepen its relationship with the global Irish, that even more people at home will see that extending the right to vote in presidential elections is an important step to take. It’s one that will benefit the Irish both at home and abroad.”
The poll was commissioned by VotingRights.ie and the UCD Clinton Institute ahead of a major digital conference on Irish citizenship, emigrants and voting rights post-Brexit which takes place on Monday 1st March 2021. More information is at CitizenshipPapers.ie.
The event will include contributions from Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Minister for the Diaspora Colm Brophy and Minister for Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan. There will be responses to the poll, plus panels with representatives from major political parties across the island, as well as academics and activists. Registration is open now.
The poll was conducted by Ireland Thinks between 20th and 24th February 2021 with a sample of 1,131 people drawn from a nationally representative panel and weighted according to age, gender, past vote, educational attainment, housing tenure and political interest.
Dr Kevin Cunningham of Ireland Thinks said: “On the basis of two polls conducted over a year apart there appears to be consistency in the level of support for the voting rights of Irish citizens living abroad. The most popular initiative is to grant citizens abroad the right to vote in Presidential elections. Support for voting rights in Seanad elections is more marginal while there is much less support for extending the franchise to those aged 16 and 17.
“From the political science perspective, recent referendums have shown that there can be sometimes significant differences between public opinion and referendum results and that those differences are a function of the strength of the campaigns (with the gap between the opinion and result narrowing sharply in the final days) and differential turnout, due to different levels of enthusiasm in the campaign of those both for or against a given proposal. Thus the nature of the campaign, and the frames in which this issue is understood will be of critical importance.”