Voting Rights for Irish Emigrants

The thorny issue of voting rights for the Irish diaspora emerged again yesterday on the Marian Finucane show. As reported over at, TCD lecturer Elaine Byrne suggested allowing the Irish diaspora to vote in elections for the Seanad as a means of allowing more voices have an impact on Irish politics.

Meanwhile in the Sunday Times, Eleanor Fitzsimons noted that ‘according to the law, those not “ordinarily resident”, that is living in Ireland on 1 September in the year before the voting register comes into force, cannot cast a ballot in Irish elections.’ Fitzsimons’s article is behind a paywall but the piece was broadly sympathetic of the rights of Irish citizens abroad, if wary of their impact on Irish politics.

But in truth Irish emigrants should be expecting more than just the right to vote in the Seaned. Ireland is the only country in the EU, and one of only 50 countries around the world, that does not allow citizens  living abroad to vote. Unlike citizens of Ghana, Mexico, Dominican Republic and around 115 other countries, Irish people living outside the Republic of Ireland are barred from directly participating in the electoral process.

Noreen Bowden, editor of, believes that Irish emigrants’ have paid the price for their own generosity.

Irish people aboard are very generous to Ireland in so many ways so there’s never been much of a need to go the extra mile to engage with them politically. Many countries have allowed emigrants to vote as a way to encourage them to contribute economically. Ireland has never needed to do that.

Emigrant voting rights have, of course, been on the political agenda in Ireland for quite some time. Back in the 1990s there were serious proposals to elect representatives of the Diaspora to the Seanad, in much the same way that universities hold six seats in the second house. Unfortunately this suggestion came to nought following a split between advocates of immediate full voting rights for emigrants and those who saw the Seanad as a first step towards this broader goal.

More recently a mandate to prepare a proposal for extending the franchise at presidential elections to include the Irish abroad was included in the current coalition’s Programme for Government. Even this proposition, which falls far short of the full representation emigrants’ deserve, has gone nowhere. Indeed both John Gormley and Brian Cowen denied all knowledge of it when questioned on the subject in the Dail by their own colleague Michael Martin.

As the current, discredited administration crumbles the clamour for political reform, and even a ‘Second Republic’, grows ever louder.

Surely any future reform must involve extending voting rights to Irish emigrants, and not just for Seaned elections? With its long emigrant history, Ireland is the last country that should be excluding its Diaspora.

There are also practical questions around allowing the Diaspora to vote – who would qualify to vote?  What about Northern Ireland? Would Irish citizens there be included? – but are these logistical issue sufficient reason to deny Irish citizens the right to vote?

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  • Mark

    Would that give people with dual nationality two votes in two different countries or would they have to give up one vote .

  • joeCanuck

    I think that the basis for voting should be based on physical residence ( apart from temporary business absence) and being required to pay taxes (if income warrants).Nationality isn’t sufficient nor should it be a barrier.

  • No taxation, no representation. Part of democracy is shared outcomes – when an emigrant votes FF he won’t have to look his neighbour in the eye afterward.

  • pippakin

    It should depend on the reason for absence. If someone is emigrating then he/she should lose the right to vote. If they are working or studying abroad for a fixed period then they should retain their voting rights, at least for a period.

  • Alias

    Only those living in the state and directly effected by the laws of the state, and liable to taxation by the state, should vote to change the laws of the state or those who govern them.

  • joeCanuck

    Good point about being suject to the law. I would allow a Polish bricklayer, say, a vote if paying taxes but not a foreign diplomat.

  • Dan Sullivan

    Those who have emigrated and are graduates of TCD and the NUI actually can already vote for the Seanad. It’s a postal vote and there are many people on the register, a very quick and rather rough sorting of the NUI register shows about 2% or so with addresses outside of Ireland with possibly the same amount from the north.

    It is a measure of the depth of thought that some of those writing in the press about the issue have given it that they appear either unaware of it or just don’t bother to mention it. As someone who ran for the Seanad and was themselves both an emigrant (the early 90s was the greatest time to have an degree in electronics in Ireland) and the product of emigration (both the folks had to leave the kingdom in the 50s, and did the meeting in London and having their babies before heading back in the mid 70s. Leaving me with a semi-rootless accent and a lifelong Crystal Palace burden to carry) I tried to highlight the situation but to little avail. I think it is something we should discuss but it’d be no harm to see some of those people actually do some research into what the current situation is.

  • Mark

    Dan Sullivan ,

    Crystal Palace fan ! there’s a cross to bear , I remember El Tel Venables was manager , they were the new team of the 80,s . They had a winger called Vince Hillare , as quick as a hare , with a great affro .

  • Drumlins Rock

    thy could maybe just copy the UKs position, this is from the Electoral office website.

    “I am a British citizen who used to live in Northern Ireland but now live abroad. Can I be included on the Register of Electors?
    British citizens living abroad can be registered in the same parliamentary constituency as they were registered prior to going abroad. It is important to note that in order to qualify as an Overseas Elector you must have been on the Northern Ireland Electoral Register at some point within the last 15 years or, if you were not old enough to vote, your parent or guardian must have been registered. Overseas electors can vote in Westminster Parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections, but not Northern Ireland Assembly or Local Government elections. “

  • @Mark You don’t need dual nationality to vote in many EU countries.

    @Mark Dowling The no taxation no representation chestnut spun about emigrant voting is both old and more than a little disingenuous – we don’t take away the votes of non-tax payers living in ROI do we?

    If you look at the UK once you emigrate you are entitled to register for an overseas vote. It’s a relatively hassle free exercise that can be done on-line and doesn’t lapse for 15 years (although that is currently being challenged in the EU and could be made indefinite). Ireland, on the other hand, gives its citizens 18 months and then there are excluded from the democratic process.

    But it’s also worth remembering that the proportion of Irish abroad who would actually vote if they could is liable to be very, very small. Eg in the UK only a few thousand ex-pats bother to register and vote even though it’s a pretty straightforward process.

  • It’s not a point directly related to voting, but this post struck me as having *something* to do with the debate:

    I understand the ‘no-taxation-without-representation’ (and vice-versa) argument, but Ireland’s diaspora has – at times – been it’s greatest asset. More to the point, the Irish government have historically (and disgracefully) used emigration as the safety net where other states have applied responsible economic management.

    If Ireland is to return to a situation were it’s economy is continually bolstered by cheques home or income from holidaying ex-pats, it has a duty to engage those people in some way – to give them a stake in the country.

  • Alias

    PG, all residents and visitors in the state are taxpayers. Have you never heard of indirect taxation? When you spend money in the state, you pay taxes in it. It doesn’t matter if they are not eligible for income tax.

    Those citizens of the state that are not resident in the state have no right to decide its laws in any realm, including its tax policies, since they are not affected by those laws and thereby immune to the law of consequence and responsible voting on which good governance depends.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, I wonder how the voting rights for emigrants would affect a constitutional poll in NI if a similiar principle applied? It would depend on whether more unionists than nationalists emigrated.

  • As an Irish person living in Holland this is one of my pet peeves. As was pointed out above practically every western country gives emigrants the right to vote but not Ireland. The ‘ no representation without taxation’ point is ridiculous, does that mean that the unemployed should not have the right to vote? Emigrants do pay tax such as VAT on visits home and indeed many have already paid plenty of income and property taxes along the way.
    Incredibly British people are allowed automatically to vote in Irish elections! What kind of logic is that? Jon from Essex moves to my home town and can automatically vote in the constituency but I am disenfranchised the minute I leave the country.
    I do agree with giving the vote in national elections to long term residents but this should be implemented at the EU level. I have lived in Holland for ten years and have neither a vote here or in my home country. A vote somewhere would do for me.
    There are many models for how this could work. Personally I would say that a ten seat international constituency could be elected by non-residents including Irish people in the north.
    The lack of votes for emigrants shows how little desire there is in Ireland to have active connections with the diaspora. My children who are half-Polish have far more tangible links to their mother country because Poland actually cares about the Polonia and has a television station, Polish schools everywhere, a Miss Polonia competition and countless examples of real exchange programmes with foreign Poles. People like my wife and 100,000 other Polish residents in Holland can vote at home as can my brother’s French wife.
    Basically the Irish diaspora has a lot to offer Ireland but without any real connections besides visits back to the auld sod Ireland will go on losing its own.

  • joeCanuck

    does that mean that the unemployed should not have the right to vote?

    Not at all, the key is “liability to taxation”.
    And if paying local taxes such as VAT on a visit gives eligibility then I would be entitled to vote in dozens of countries.

  • Dan Sullivan

    The issues around taxation and representation would be easily addressed if we had a proper concept of residency in Ireland, instead we have the notion of being tax resident but not of what it means to be a resident of the country, there again this parallels our concept of citizenship being fairly vague too.

  • Actually you wouldn’t because you don’t have dozens of nationalities. I have one nationality and that country does not allow me to vote in its elections. If your conditions for giving the right to vote are both Irish nationality and liability for income tax then I can see a certain logic.
    However, I don’t think that an Irish person who decides to emigrate rather than to stay at home on the dole is less worthy of a vote than the person who stays.
    I guess that it depends on what you view as the nation. I believe that the Irish state should represent the Irish nation and not just the Irish (and British) people who live within the twenty six counties.

  • joeCanuck


    I was, of course, jesting. But I would go further than nationality, just permanent residence and liability to taxation. I think it’s totally unfair that you haved lived in Holland for 10 years and do not have a vote. Does that apply to municipal elections too?

  • No, EU citizens can vote in municipal and EU elections whatever country they live in. For a vote in the national elections you need the Dutch nationality. You don’t get that just for being born here either so my children will never have the right to vote unless they naturalize.
    I can see why you might go further than nationality but other countries don’t. The Irish exception in this is all about FF, emigration suits them down to the ground. If the other parties have any sense they will seize their opportunity in the next Dail.

  • joeCanuck

    The law in Canada is actually harsher and has changed since I arrived here. Now you have to have Canadian citizenship to vote even in municipal elections. Now, Canada does allow dual citizenship and citizens temporarily abroad can vote by post or at an Embassy.

  • gréagóir o frainclín

    Only folk residing in the nation should be entitled to vote!

  • Mick Fealty


    I sympathise. But why, given as Peter demonstrates above, it’s not exactly the norm elsewhere?

  • Alias

    Mick, that is an argument in favour of harmonisation (doing what others do simply because they do it), not an argument in favour of allowing emigrants the right to vote.

    He hasn’t established why citizens that are resident in the state should have their laws and governance determined by those not resident in the state.

  • Alias

    The practical side of allowing those who are not residents of the state to vote in it is easily underlined by asking which constituency do they vote in, and ergo which candidate do they vote for, when they are not resident in any of the constituencies? That is why you see the focus on the likes of universal presidential elections to avoid the farce that would arise if the franchise was ever extended to those who are not entitled to it and have no need of it.

    And that is also a core point: they have no need of it since they are not subject to the laws or the governance that they would be determining. Further, they would be immune to the consequences of how they use the franchise and therefore could not be expected to use the franchise responsibly or, indeed, to be properly informed at that remove about the issues or cognisant of the public mood.

    That last point is that citizens of a state would determine their own affairs about how that state is governed in their own collective interests, and should not have their right to self-determination usurped by those who are not resident in the state.

    What we are really seeing is a bunch of surrender moneys who will try any trick in the book to convert the Irish nation within its own state into a non-sovereign nation…

  • Alias

    surrender moneys = surrender monkeys. Surrender monies only applies to said surrender monkeys’ policy on bailing-out eurosystem banks. 😉

  • Alias

    One last point: harmonisation is also about denying nations the right to determine their own affairs since it replaces the principle of self-determination with the principle of globalisation, i.e. that the affairs of nations should not be determined by those nations.

  • Alias,
    It would be quite simple to create an international constituency elected on a list system so that the constituency issue wouldn’t arise.
    Practically speaking I don’t think that it is feasible to allow all Irish passport holders to have a vote in the current constuency system. I would suggest limiting the right to vote to those who have been resident in the Irish state for a number of years within a certain time period. The problem now is that you lose your right to vote immediately on leaving Ireland and have no vote in your new country unless you move to the UK which does allow the Irish to vote straight away for some strange reason.
    Just as an aside the Irish embassy staff abroad are allowed to vote in Irish elections and this is facilitated so it’s not unheard of even now for non-residents to be given a mechanism for voting from abroad.

  • JeanMeslier

    The point is missed on everyone.

    The reason why successive southern governments would not allow the irish diaspora the vote was because they could not trust them.

    The intelligence feedback from the emigrant base over the years was that they were too radical in their outlook towards the old sod.
    Well we all know what that means, don’t we?
    Given half a chance they’d be voting radical, most probably Sinn Fein.
    The lads in power weren’t going to have that now, were they?

    As for “the 2nd republic” idea.
    I would suggest we go back to the “republic” that hasn’t happened yet, – the republic of Easter Monday 1916, which was sidelined ASAP. like the Democratic Programme of the 1st Dail, when the new native ascendancy aquired their hereditary grip in the 20’s and continued until the present day and the sad state of affairs we find ourselves in.

    Imagine a “republic” based on the principles of the 1916 Proclamation!
    You’d think Dev or Garrett, or Charlie would have thought of it. Wouldn’t you?

  • Seems there is still a big fear factor around this topic, despite the fact that 115 other countries have recognised the benefits within their own jurisdictions.

    A new constituency representing Irish citizens abroad would be one example of how representation could be attained without adversely distorting the political framework.

    The taxation/representation argument is outdated in its thinking, and indeed Ireland is seeking economic input from its diaspora yet many want to keep this a one-sided deal. (The US used the taxation argument in the 18th century revolution, and today only apply it to those earning over $85k abroad.)

    Billions spent on education over the last decade and that talent now being exported (mostly not by choice). Create the same disconnect as per previous immigration eras, or keep those who leave engaged and maximise the possibility for returns on that investment?

    All major political parties have said they want to deepen the relationship with the Irish abroad in the coming years, it’ll need to be a two-way street if the full potential is to be realised.

    Harmonisation is a term that doesn’t belong in the discussion. This is an issue for Irish citizens only. It’s the 21st century, a smaller world, and we can either view the Irish nation as one confined within the borders of the state, or in an international context where we can use our reach for mutual benefit.

    Apart from political and economic arguments, there are also social and cultural reasons for revisiting the issue. Raising objections and closing off the opportunity for a new debate without considering the advantages (and the differences from 20 years ago) is a bit of a knee jerk reaction stemming from old engrained fears.

  • Munsterview

    Alias : Since you I believe hold an Israeli pasport, could you tell me what is the voting position of a person in your situation ?

    1 Do you vote in Ireland only ?

    2 Do you vote in Israel only ?

    3 Do you vote in both juristictions ?

    4 Any idea what happened to your sometime defender and champion, Maskey? ( Still a few days to go, I may yet want to consider wishing him the complements of the season )

  • Crusty Burke

    As always Official Ireland is quite happy to forget about us and pour scorn on any attempt to grant us our simple democratic right to have vote in our own country.

    I have heard the old “no taxation without representation” argument rehashed ad nauseaum over the years and it still doesn’t hold water.

    After all the easiest thing to do would be to set up Seanad Panels for not just emigrants, but also our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland who are also disenfranchised from the Irish State’s elections.

    In a stroke this would give emigrants and those NI residents who wish to engage with the Irish State’s elections a voice that is noticeably absent.

    Of course if and when Inda gets into power his half baked notions of abolishing the Seanad would scupper these proposals and so therefore Inda would have no options than to allow emigrants and NI residents their own seperate constituencies in Dail Eireann…now THAT would be interesting…

  • gendjinn

    50 million in the diaspora and 5 million in Ireland.

    Without a constitutional amendment that’s near on 1200 TDs. 90% of whom would be elected by not just non-residents but from a group of people whose parents may not have been born in Ireland.

    We had a situation something like that before and it took us 120 years to get out of it.

    If we’re going to get silly season articles can we at least get the weather too?

  • Munsterview

    gendjinn : “…..50 million in the diaspora and 5 million in Ireland.

    Without a constitutional amendment that’s near on 1200 TDs. 90% of whom would be elected by not just non-residents but from a group of people whose parents may not have been born in Ireland……..”

    The above is sober reminder that despite all that has happened over the past number of years since the banking scandals broke and the watershed revelations that we have had since of official arrogance, waste, squander-mania, incompetence and inaduquadeicies from this State as a whole when it found itself in a situation of its own making through crony capitalism of interfacing top elites, there are still those prepared to defend the status quo.

    In 1976 I attended a large fundraising function for republicans in New York and I was quite surprised to see the brother of a leading member of my home area Fianna Failed there. At this time Fianna Failed were still using everything they could to bury Sinn Fein and stop the rise of Republicanism in the South.

    As we shook hands I chided him with… ‘What ever would your brother think if he knew you were at something like this ” ?

    The raw anger and bitterness of his reply took me aback : ” It is him and self serving bastards like him that have the likes of me driven out of my own country ” he said

    The scales had dropped from his eyes and the Fianna Failed first, last and always attitude was long gone. The emigration experience had radicalized him and time and again as travel got easier and cheaper I found his type at local commemorations all over Ireland when home on holidays.

    This is why the establishment is foot dragging on the ‘vote for immigrants’ issue : both the permanent government, the rest of the Irish establishment and British interests in Ireland know that that radicalized electorate if enfranchised would by a vast majority be anti-establishment and anti-status quo.

    Votes for emigrants or Irish overseas ?

    Do not hold your breath on it, the Irish establishment and various vested interests if accepting the proposition would be no better than the proverbal turkeys voting for Christmas ! Expect plenty more objections as in the one quoted by status quo defenders using all sorts of reasons for the disenfranchisement, save the real ones of course !

  • gendjinn


    hmmm. Try responding to what I wrote, not what you want me to have written.

    Pointing out the flaws in a proposal is not equatable with defending the status quo nor any political party.

    Explain to me how giving the vote to 50 million people who are not resident in the country and are completely immune to the consequences of their votes will benefit the 5 million who will have to live with them?

  • Gendjinn / Munsterview,

    I think the original article is flawed in the suggestion that the ‘Irish Diaspora’ should have a vote. The supporters of the introduction of a scheme (such as myself) see it being restricted for example to Irish citizens who have left Ireland. The numbers are therefore dramatically less than being assumed here.

    Furthermore one possible suggestion is the creation of a constituency (or constituencies) for those abroad to vote in, thereby mitigating any adverse impact to the overall political system whilst still offering representation.

    The principle has a lot of arguments going for it, but it’s a case of identifying a structure that is fair to all and overcoming old fears and assumptions.

  • gendjinn


    I believe Britain’s system is like that – if you’ve been out of the country for less than a certain number of years (5, 3?) you may still vote but after that period has elapsed and you are still abroad you lose it.

    Something like that would be workable where people who are intending to return would retain the franchise.

  • Munsterview

    Not really engaged as yet….. just getting there!

    There are two separate issues here, political recognition for Irish Citizens abroad who regard themselves as just that and some sort of cultural recognition for the those of Irish Descent who want to be associated with Ireland such as for example the Spanish speaking Irish in Argentina and the second and third generation Irish in the States, Canada, Newfoundland, Australia and New Zeland etc.

    I am all in favor of allowing the Irish abroad a vote here for a fixed period after leaving, for say a ten year period where they would have a full voting rights. If those in the power structures at home knew that they would have to face the wrath of those forced to emigrate who had no option, then there would be a lot more concern for their welfare at home and abroad.

    There is no simplistic answer to this issue. However a start would be to appoint a Minister for the Irish overseas who would have the plight and issues of the emigrated and Irish overseas as their sole concern.

    The next step would be to have a weekend conference for all existing Irish organizations overseas together with influential individuals such as Niall O’Dowd with a proven record in Irish concerns and issues to explore these things and set up a worldwide representative organization with a working committee to bring in a constitution and rules etc, for election of reps on an ongoing basis.

    The embro form is there in the Pan Celtic Festival and that has been very successful. An electronic weekly newsletter such as Irish Central could turn these scattered groups into a community aware of what each other are doing.

    There is no limit to what could be done or what should be done. However back to my original comment, will our political turkey establishment vote for Christmas ? In the infamous words of the late Gogarty, will they F**k ! Therein lies the greatest obstacle.

    When the scale and extent of the Institutional abuse of those in orphanages and detention centers became known within the establishment, the Irish IRB in assocation with their American IRB associates, brought over the famous Boy Town priest to highlight what was happening and Dev and his Government ministers ran him out of the country !

    Mother Theresa trained here in Ireland, she knew what Dublin Urban Poverty and depravation was like. At her earliest opportunity she established a convent in Dublin and started working with the poor. There was outrage in Political and Church establishment circles.

    Within a few weeks her nuns had shown what could be done and was not being done. Church and State combined to run her nuns out of the country. It has been occasionally my good fortune, but in the main my misfortune to know a fair few Government ministers over the years. Their common defining trait was not humility.

    That waste of space Minister Ahern received a hand delivered letter from the childs mother given personally over a year ago to his constituency office secretary. It contained details of high level Garda collaboration and that of Department Of Justice Officials in facilitating the abuse of a minor by a police informer who was active in IRSP circles in both Ireland and the UK.

    He gave a curt reply suggesting that she get the Gardai to investigate the matter. The mother concerned then detailed the gardai and Dep of Justice collusion and demanded an inquiry independent of both parties. She has had no reply all year and earlier to-day left my my door upset and with a few very uncomplimentary things to say about the same minister.

    These are the people we are up against in regard to any change or innovation. The interests of the State are paramount and the gate keepers of all that privilege are the Southern Irish Superior Courts. Occasionally as with Mr Justice Flartheys interference in the Judicial process and his forced resignation or in the Donegal Garda Damage limitation enquiry we get a glimpse of just how systemically corrupt things really are.

    And so it is, whether it is Garda protected and collaborated paedophile abuse, the crime waste lands of Limerick or a blind eye to cocaine use in celebrity clubs in Dublin, nothing ever changes or will because the establishment, the real rulers and more important their attitudes never will in any meaningfull way.

  • joeCanuck

    As soon as I left, I knew my voting rights would be lost at the next electoral register issue. I have no problem with that having left voluntarily. When I took out canadian Citizenship, I obtained the vote again in the country where I paid my taxes.
    Get over it.

  • Hi Munsterview,

    Agree with all you say, but just call me an eternal optimist! I think it’s a matter of time, and whether it happens with some of the present encumbents still in position or later I think it’s worth pursuing.

    JoeC – You may not be aware, but Canada allows its citizens abroad to vote in political elections up to 5 years after leaving (providing they intend to return) – would you suggest that now be revoked?

  • joeCanuck

    No Mick, I wasn’t up to date on current regulations. A key thing is that you intend to return and, I presume, that return would be within the 5 year period.
    We have someting similar for permanent (non-citizen) residents. They can leave to deal with extended family emergencies but can return if they establish that that was always their intent.

  • hi Joe, it’s a changing world as they say, and 115 countries now allow expats to vote in some form or other. Canada is actually one of the more restrictive ones, but even a system like that would keep Irelands new emigrants engaged in the national discussion – and given that they’re a pretty well educated bunch… well you can extrapolate the rest.


  • gendjinn


    If those in the power structures at home knew that they would have to face the wrath of those forced to emigrate who had no option, then there would be a lot more concern for their welfare at home and abroad.

    You are dead right.

    I’m not for giving the franchise to every Irish citizen world wide, but those who are some number of years (3,5,10) out of the country would be a good start.

    Although, I think the first step should be fully enfranchising Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and allowing them to elect TDs. It’d have to be by postal vote but the unionist apoplexy would completely be worth it.