Irish Government to hold referendum on voting rights of Irish abroad
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Irish Government to hold referendum on voting rights of Irish abroad

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has announced the Irish Government will hold a referendum on the presidential voting rights of the Irish diaspora. 

The Taoiseach made the announcement while speaking at the Irish Memorial in Philadelphia yesterday.

The Government's decision comes after the Convention on the Constitution, in its fifth report, recommended that the constitution be amended to provide for citizens resident outside the State to have the right to vote at presidential elections, including in Northern Ireland.

In March 2015, the Government's policy on its diaspora, Global Irish: Ireland's Diaspora Policy, was published which included analysis of the legal, policy and practical issues arising from Convention on the Constitution's recommendations on the extension of voting rights to Irish citizens outside the State in presidential elections.

A key theme from submissions received during the development of Ireland's Diaspora Policy was the importance of the issue of voting rights to many Irish citizens abroad.

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Many felt it would allow them to deepen their engagement with Ireland and to play a more active role in Irish society.

Speaking in Philadelphia yesterday, the Taoiseach said the announcement is a "profound recognition" of the Irish abroad.

"Today's announcement is a profound recognition of the importance that Ireland attaches to all of our citizens, wherever they may be," he said.

"It is an opportunity for us to make our country stronger by allowing all of our citizens resident outside the State, including our emigrants, to vote in future presidential elections.

"I am especially pleased to be making this announcement as we prepare for our worldwide celebration of St. Patrick's Day and of all that is Irish."

However, the extension of the franchise in presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State gives rise to a range of legal, policy and practical issues.

The Government will publish a detailed Options Paper later this month to set out the range of options available to give effect to the recommendation of the Convention on the Constitution.

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The extension of the franchise will also require modernisation of the voter registration process and the introduction of arrangements to facilitate citizens to exercise their franchise from outside the State.

The Government has agreed that important work will now commence on modernisation of the voter registration process to effect improvements in the registration of voters.

This announcement is also in keeping with arrangements in place in a majority of countries around the world who provide for voting by those of their citizens resident outside the State.