Who we are

Tá ceart ag gach saoránach na hÉireann vóta a chaitheamh i dtoghchán na hUachtaránachta

Who we are: VotingRights.ie was founded in 2016 by a small group of Irish citizens concerned that Irish emigrants and citizens in Northern Ireland are denied their basic rights to vote in any election because of current restrictions. These restrictions included the time emigrants can be away from Ireland (only18 months) before being dropped from the voting rolls and the requirement that they must be on the island to vote on Election Day.

These restrictions put the Republic at odds with the vast majority of democracies around the world and with other nations that make up the E.U. According to the most recent IDEA global democracy report (January, 2021) a total of 125 states and territories allow people living abroad to participate in legislative elections, 88 allow participation in presidential elections and 73 countries and territories allow citizens overseas to participate in referendums.  Ireland is not one of them.

Our Vision – All citizens of Ireland should have the right to vote in Presidential elections. VotingRights.ie is, therefore, an All-Ireland initiative. Our immediate goal is the passage of a nationalreferendum allowing Irish emigrants and citizens living in Northern Ireland the right to vote in future Presidential Elections. This referendum was one of the key recommendations of the 2013 Constitutional Convention and is included in the current programme of government.

Since our founding we launched several initiatives including development of a policy paper for the 2017 Global Civic Forum where Senator Billy Lawless gave the key note speech. In March of 2021 we organized a virtual conference entitled “Citizenship, Emigrants and Voting Rights Post Brexit” with the support of the Clinton Institute for American Studies at UCD. We also released at the conference a major set of 40 essays entitled “The Citizenship Papers.”

We believe that there is an urgent need to update Ireland’s election laws and mechanisms to match E.U. norms. Ireland’s electoral system should include a national voter registration system, a more expansive postal voting system and allow all citizens the right to vote in Presidential and Seanad elections.

Our Team:
Former Senator for the Diaspora Billy Lawless from Galway is the Chair of our executive committee and one of several co-founders. Billy immigrated to Chicago in 1998 and created successful restaurant business and there became a leader in immigration reform. Billy was chosen to introduce President Obama when the President announced his DACA immigration reform plan. Billy was appointed to the Seanad in 2016 by then Taoiseach Edna Kenny becoming the first Senator to represent emigrants and the wider Diaspora. Billy is a recipient of the Irish Presidential Distinguished Service Award

Ciaran Cannon T.D., the former Minister for the Diaspora, is our Vice Chair in the Republic. Cannon is member of the Fine Gael party representing East Galway. Ciaran previously served as a Minister of Statemat the Department of Education and Skills between 2011 and 2014. Cannon is a musician and songwriter, and recently collaborated with Irish folk singer Seán Keane and others on songwriting projects. He can often be found on his bicycle.

Emma DeSouza, the well-known citizen activist, acts as our Vice Chair in Northern Ireland. Emma is the coordinator of Women in Leadership at the National Women’s Council of Ireland. She is also a writer and political commentator for @IrishTimesOped. She and her husband Jake now live in Fermangh about 5 miles from the Border.

Hilary Bierne, originally from Roscommon is the Chair of the NYC Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Foundation and represents Voting Rights.ie in New York City. Hilary has been the Executive Secretary of the NYC Saint Patrick’s Parade since 2002

Noreen Bowden is Director of Policy and a co-founder of Voting Rights.ie. The former Director of the Dublin-based Emigrant Advice Network, she has advocated on issues affecting emigrants through op-eds to the Irish Times and other news outlets, and on her own GlobalIrish.ie website.  She holds an MPA from Harvard University, and an MA in Irish Studies from Boston College. She has served on several boards, including the Irish Immigration Center in Boston and the Brussels-based Europeans Throughout the World, where she served as Vice President, and is currently the Communications Director at the Irish Business Organization in New York;  she teaches about the Irish Diaspora through CelticJunction.com.

Larry Donnelly A legal research lecturer at National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), he is a regular political commentator on RTÉ Radio 1 and the nightly television news bulletin, RTÉ News on Two, also contributing to his local radio station Galway Bay FM. He has a political column in The Sunday Business Post.

Jacqueline Gilna, born and raised in South Dublin and resident in Canada, is a results-oriented, multilingual entrepreneur with years of international experience in business strategy with a superb ability to motivate and lead. A participant of the Global Economic Irish Forum, Jackie has a strong focus on helping drive opportunities for the Irish Diaspora. She is the co-founder, President & Chair of the Ireland Canada Chamber of Commerce Ottawa, Founder, President, and Chair of the Ireland Canada Business Council.  Jackie is also the creator and leader behind the 2022   www.werareglobalirish.com,  a company dedicated to bringing Irish folks from across the world together in a multi business environment, connecting Irish culture with global commerce. Jackie is expert in selecting, leading, and managing diverse cross-cultural, cross-functional technical and operational virtual teams. She has excellent communication and interpersonal skills, is experienced in strategic alliances & partnerships, complex contracts, Irish Diaspora development, technology, VIP event management, international trade, and training.

Ben Kelly, originally from Derry and now a London based journalist Ben is the Vice Chair of VICA http://www.vica.ie/, as well as our press spokesperson and Director of Social Media. Ben is Deputy Social Media Editor at The Independent. As a writer, he also covers political and social stories from Ireland, and regularly contributes comment pieces to Voices and other long read features.

Professor Liam Kennedy, the Executive Director of the Clinton Institute for American Studies at UCD, directs our conference proceedings. He is currently researching contemporary Irish America and also preparing edited books on the election and presidency of Donald Trump and on diaspora and diplomacy.

Rachel O’Sullivan, originally from Dublin is Director of Research. Rachel is a member of the Social Democrats. She has a Ph.D. in German History and is currently doing a Postdoc at the Centre for Holocaust Studies in Munich, Germany.

Kevin J. Sullivan is a co-founder of Voting Rights.ie and served for nine years as the Chair of the Washington Ireland Program (WIP). Kevin is currently the Project Director for the US based Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement. Kevin was instrumental in creating Civic Link, a joint USA/Irish cross community/ cross border reconciliation initiative, which was announced in the immediate
aftermath of the GFA by President Clinton. Civic Link would reach over 12,500 secondary school students.

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