Extending voting rights to Northern Ireland in Irish Presidential elections
In light of the recent publication of legislation in Ireland to enable a referendum on extending voting rights in Irish presidential elections to Irish citizens residing outside the state, Professors Colin Harvey and John Garry look back at their input into the 2013 Constitutional Convention that made the recommendation for this right to be extended.
Legislation has been published in Ireland which facilitates the holding of a referendum on the extension of voting rights in Irish presidential elections to Irish citizens who are resident outside of Ireland. The referendum was due to take place before the end of 2019 but is now likely to be held next year. If the proposal is supported in the referendum, this would enable an extension of voting rights for the planned 2025 Irish presidential election. This would mean that Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland will be able to vote in that election.
This decision to hold a referendum is the result of a recommendation made by Irish citizens at the Constitutional Convention in 2013. The Convention was an example of deliberative democracy in action: a random selection of Irish citizens – broadly representative of Irish citizens as a whole in terms of age, gender, social class and other characteristics – was selected to discuss (alongside a sample of elected politicians) a range of constitutional themes, and to make recommendations.
On this particular issue, the citizens met over a weekend and reflected on evidence presented by a range of experts, including two Queen’s University academics. Professor Colin Harvey presented to the citizens an analysis of the legal and constitutional aspects of extending the right to vote to Irish citizens resident outside the state.
Professor John Garry presented his analysis of the voting implications of such an extension of the electorate, specifically asking: “If people living in Northern Ireland were allowed to vote in an Irish Presidential election, what impact would this have on the outcome of the election?”
The full final report of the Constitutional Convention can be accessed here.
Colin Harvey is Professor of Human Rights Law in the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast, a Fellow of the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, and an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Irish Studies.