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'Ireland out of step for too long': Campaigners in London to march for Irish abroad vote in presidential elections

VICA says a yes vote would help honour the international role of the Irish President.

London's St Patrick's Day Parade 2018.
London's St Patrick's Day Parade 2018.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE VOTES FOR Irish Citizens campaign group will be marching in London’s St Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday to call for a yes vote in this year’s referendum on voting rights in presidential elections. 

A yes vote in October’s referendum would mean Irish citizens living outside the country would be able to cast their vote for the first time in a presidential election. 

As things currently stand, Irish people who have emigrated abroad are unable to vote in Dáil or presidential elections or in any referendum that takes place in Ireland.

Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) says a yes vote would help “close the gap in unequal citizenship with respect to the franchise and honour the international role of the Irish President”.

‘Out of step’

The campaign group’s entry in London’s parade is set to celebrate the contribution of Irish citizens in the UK, “who represent Irishness globally but are denied a vote”.

Float organiser and VICA member, Alan Flanagan, said that Ireland has been out of step with the rest of Europe and the world for too long.

When Irish football captain Seamus Coleman can’t cast a vote for President, the franchise isn’t living up to the promise made by our nation’s founders. A yes vote in this year’s referendum would send a powerful message to Irish citizens across the world. 

“Ireland gained global attention in 2015 and 2018, with images of its newer emigrants returning home to vote in the equal marriage and abortion referendums appearing in social media and international press. However, while the engagement, determination and passion of Ireland’s young people gained so much admiration around the world, Ireland still lags behind in extending democratic participation to its overseas citizens,” Flanagan said.

St Patrick's day celebrations The London Eye in central London lit green to celebrate St Patrick's Day Source: Yui Mok via PA Images

The referendum was initially due to take place in May but was moved because of Brexit according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, as well as the local and European elections being held in the same month.

Before Brexit, Irish citizens living in the UK could vote in the EU elections in their British constituencies – to vote in their Irish constituency they would have still needed to travel home. 

Because of Brexit, Irish citizens will now need to travel home to vote.

The ‘home-to-vote’ right also expires after 18 months of non-residency, after which Irish citizens living abroad can’t take part in any elections in Ireland.

However, post-Brexit Irish citizens will still retain the right to vote in Westminster and local elections the same way British citizens may vote in Dáil and county council elections but are excluded from constitutional referenda here.

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VICA has said that given the possibility Irish citizens living in the UK will be unable to vote in EU elections after Brexit, the need to extend the presidential election franchise to overseas citizens is “felt all the more keenly by a community that has proven themselves connected to Ireland, and invested in its future and place in the world”.

Sarah Cantwell, VICA member, has been living in London for six years but said her personal ties with Ireland continue to deepen. 

“I regularly travel back to help care for family members and to help out with activist movements. Ireland is where I was raised and I plan to live there again in the future.”

“Having a say in which President represents me as an Irish citizen, would acknowledge and affirm the reality of my connections and responsibilities in Ireland,” Cantwell said. 

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Adam Daly

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