MINISTER FOR Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has confirmed the Government's commitment to holding a referendum to extend voting rights in future presidential elections to Irish citizens living abroad.
Mr Coveney said that Ireland would benefit from the inclusion of emigrants in presidential elections, and that the Government would endeavour to provide the electorate with as much information as possible ahead of them casting their vote.
He made the remarks at a virtual conference hosted by VotingRights.ie discussing Irish citizenship, emigrants and voting rights in the wake of Brexit.
“This government is committed to holding a referendum to extend the rights of our citizens outside the state to vote in future presidential elections,” Coveney said.
He emphasised that the office of the president represents all Irish citizens.
“Our presidents have been a distinguished voice for the Irish nation, and for an inclusive vision of Irishness, embracing all Irish citizens, including our diaspora,” he added.
"Giving our citizens around the world a voice to the highest office in the State will strengthen the bond between all Irish citizens irrespective of distance or location.
"I understand the importance of this to so many Irish citizens around the world.
"The decision to extend this right to the diaspora will of course be a decision for the Irish people. We will work to provide the electorate, with as much certainty and clarity as possible in reaching their decision, but I look forward to making that case to the Irish people."
A recent survey of over 1,000 people in Ireland, undertaken by polling company Ireland Thinks, found 52% of people were in favour of all Irish citizens with valid passports living abroad being allowed to vote in future presidential elections – as opposed to just 39 per cent being opposed to the idea.
The same poll found that 56% agreed with extending presidential voting rights to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
There are now more than 830,000 Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland, which is slightly over the 822,566 votes that President Michael D Higgins won in the 2018 presidential election.
It could therefore be a significant voting block in future elections.
Independent Ulster Unionist Claire Sugden said that she has both British and Irish identities and that she is keen to explore what this means in terms of voting rights.
However, she confessed that if asked to vote for an Irish president tomorrow she would not know much about the process or the candidates.
The Irish Sun reports that Mrs Sugden said: "I wouldn't know who the candidates are and I wouldn't know what they represent.
"I think that's the really interesting dynamic we have in Northern Ireland. The only candidate from the 2018 Irish presidential election that I'd be somewhat familiar with is Sinn Fein. That gives rise to its own interesting conversations.
"I would have my concerns about it for a number of reasons because in theory, why not? But with everything to do with Ireland and Northern Ireland, it's complicated. It's complicated with a past and it's all those things we have to take into account."