The Mary McAleese Question: Presidential Voting Rights for the North

UPDATE: The Constitutional Convention delegates have overwhelmingly supported the motion to extend franchise to Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland (73% in favour, 20% against, 1% 7% Undecided/ No Opinion.) The question regarding all citizens resident outside the State was also passed by a margin of 78%, 21%, 1%.)

Whilst Richard Haass is busy meeting politicians and interested parties to explore issues kicked to touch during the Good Friday Agreement discussions 15 years ago, the Constitutional Convention in Dublin will today explore another issue regrettably left unresolved at that time but for which whose time appears to be coming: the issue of voting rights for Irish citizens in the North in future Irish Presidential elections.

Steven McCaffrey at The Detail has a good piece on this, noting how an element of northern civic society has been leading on this, as opposed to simply Sinn Fein.


Ryan Feeney, a senior official with the GAA in Ulster and an independent member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, will give expert evidence to the Convention when it meets on Saturday. He was part of the lobby group `One Voice, One Vote’, where public figures outside the political parties called for the extension of voting rights in presidential elections. He says the campaign has nothing to do with Northern Ireland’s constitutional future, as enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. “I think it complements the agreement,” he said. “The Agreement makes it very clear that by law and by statute, that I have the right to call myself an Irish citizen. I am a tax-paying, law abiding citizen of the northern State, there is no doubt about that and I accept that, that is the compromise.

“As part of that I have a responsibility to defend and protect the people of this State who are British. So, park the constitutional question. This is about national identity. The Good Friday agreement allows British people to express their national identity in the political realm, or in terms of the fact that there is a monarchy. As an Irish citizen and a member of the Irish nation, I have no role in participating in electing the head of the Irish nation, which is fundamentally wrong and against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which talks about dual nationality or separate identities in terms of Irish or British.

“This is not about offending anybody. It is not about taking away anyone else’s rights. The constitutional question – we have a compromise in place – this is not about the border. We have accepted that until a majority of people in this State want a united Ireland or don’t, that issue has been parked. This is simply about me as an Irish citizen who lives in the northern State getting the right to vote for the head of the Irish nation.”

Cue the kneejerk sabre rattling opposition from former leading unionist authority, Michael McGimpsey. According to Michael, allowing northern nationalists to participate as Irish citizens permanently residing in this part of Ireland in the election of the symbolic leader of the Irish Nation would be “very, very damaging” and involve “tearing up the [Good Friday] Agreement.”

His views echoed those of Ulster Unionist Party leader, Tom Elliott. “The Irish President does not represent the people of Northern Ireland. “We have our own monarchy and Queen. That’s life. And we have to go on and accept those issues as they are,” he said.

There are two things needed said about McGimpsey and Elliott’s views.


Firstly, they perfectly illustrate what is wrong within unionism today that has led to otherwise sensible, articulate political leaders camping out at a sectarian interface in north Belfast with loyalist paramilitaries in a sham fight to ensure loyalist paramilitary aligned flute bands and Orangemen get more opportunities to march past catholic homes. An unwillingness to embrace the vision of a society of equals, affording respect to ‘The Other,’ recognising that time has marched on and a new dawn has broken.


There is no possible threat to unionism from extending the franchise to Irish citizens in the north.  It would only involve those seeking the franchise (presumably by holding status as Irish citizens) and could very easily be ignored by those not affected. Indeed, an enlightened unionist would seize the opportunity to champion the cause as a means of gaining traction within the nationalist community for the view that such a scenario can be comfortably realized within a Northern Ireland under British sovereignty.


Secondly, this is a matter firmly beyond the control of unionist political leaders. It is the Irish government alone who has the power and authority to propose such a change to how the Irish President is elected. Given the electoral rise of southern Sinn Fein, it is inevitable that this objective will be realized, either now or at a time in the future where Sinn Fein in coalition government can alone claim to have secured the right for northerners, further bolstering their status as the legitimate voice of northern nationalism. Consequently, it is in the interests of other parties, nationalist, non-aligned or liberal unionist, to publicly articulate support for this to enhance their own arguments regarding the shape of our evolving, shared society.


  • Greenflag

    @ FDM ,

    Not surprising .Gilmore will be gone before the election or he will be gone after the next election or if he scrapes back and survives as part leader he’ll be leading a Parliamentary party which will fit comfortably into a mini van .

    Like it or not the fate of the Irish Labour Party and the British Liberal Democrats is more dependent on what changes in economic policy emerge from Mutti Merkels new coalition government in Berlin whenever that is set up. Even she is finding it difficultnow to find a coalition partner . The reason for that is that prospective partners are only too aware from bitter experience how coalition with Mutti has reduced their numbers both in votes and party representation.

    More interesting for Irish voters could be the prospect of having even more Independents than political party TD ‘s in the Dail which would be a reflection of how out of touch and almost irrelevant our parties have become and been seen to become in the midst of the current financial crisis .

    And the same can be said for the UK with Cameron on the ropes and the Lib Dems facing meltdown .And take a look at the US Congress with the GOP now playing chicken with the country’s economic future simply because they don’t want poorer Americans to have health insurance and because they believe that the proper place for those who are mentally ill is in prison (Some 3% of the USA’s prison population has been diagnosed as mentally ill ).

    The rise of the corporate fascist state and top down rule by unelected financial elites can only have one outcome and that is the death of what used to be called democracy .

    The Irish Times poll is merely reflecting that sad trend here 🙁

    Those who take heart in SF ‘s increased % might want to pore closely at SF’s future economic strategy and/or policies for reversing the current trend in the West of the rich becoming richer -the middle classes disappearing and the working class and poorer sections of the population being marginalised even further than heretofore .

    So far for me anyway they (SF) remain unconvincing and only a fraction more credible than Labour or FG or FF 🙁

  • Barnshee

    “multiple headcases”

    You did not differentiate or isolate any particular grouping. You can’t really close the stable door on the horse when he is currently leaping fences at the Maze. You played the lot of us. Hence your comment is completely unwarranted, gross and unnecessarily disparaging to the entire population.

    You could of course withdraw the remark and apologise.”

    The “headcase” description of the situation is wholly apt.
    A particular grouping which has substantial representation in all parts and levels of NI Society

    No apology needed

  • Alan N/Ards

    Your are right in saying that there have been two Protestant Presidents in the Republic. Both were of course nationalist. You are of course aware of the disrespect shown by the Irish government of the day who refused to attend his Protestant church funeral service. Thankfully those days are behind us and The Vatican’s power in th ROI is practiclly non existant.

    I believe that relationships on this island could be changed for ever if a Protestant Unionist was voted in as the Irish President. It would take a very brave man/woman from my community to agree to stand for election. Indeed it would be a big gamble for the parties in the south to nominate an agreed Unionist candidate, but if the gamble is successful….who knows what the benefits would be for this island.

  • IanR

    Does anyone know if the Constitutional Convention is considering amendments to the nomination process for presidential candidates? The current requirement for 20 members of the Oireachtas to nominate a candidate is a high bar to jump even before the potential abolition of the Seanad. Northern MLAs should have the same entitlement as TDs to nominate a candidate.

  • Greenflag

    “Both were of course nationalist.”

    Douglas Hyde was a cultural nationalist from an Irish unionist background . Erskine Childers father Robert was an Englishman who served in the RAF in WW1. Robert Childers was executed by Irish Free State forces for being a ‘republican ‘ during the civil war.

    “You are of course aware of the disrespect shown by the Irish government of the day who refused to attend his Protestant church funeral service. ”

    Not quite accurate .They attended the funeral -They just stayed outside St Patrick’s Cathedral in their cars . I guess they were aping the then Orange Order edict of not being seen to attend Catholic funereal or religious services under pain of “excommunication ” except in this case it was Catholics fearing excommunication .

    All childish , stupid and unbelievably petty even back then in the 1930’s . Sadly there are still a few in NI who would even today go along with that kind of shitology and religious .

    What was even more stupid IMO was the GAA’s idiotic decision to have President Hyde removed as a patron of the GAA simply because Hyde went to see a soccer international between Ireland and Poland . And Douglas Hyde was one of the foremost Irish language enthusiasts of his times – Heres a link to some of the history.

    He reminds me of of one my great grandfather’s in . appearance.

    Perhaps the GAA might want to Utah Mormon style rebaptise Douglas Hyde as an honoured patron . ?

    heres a link to the “Craoibhinn Aoibhinn ” (the beautiful branch ) his pen name which tells a little more about the man .

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Alan N/Ards

    ‘I believe relationships on this island could be changed for ever if a Protestant Unionist was voted in as the Irish President.’

    Why? We had a unionist Taoiseach and no such transformation took place.

  • Son of Strongbow

    Should any unionist born in Ireland (topographical) throw their hat in the ring to become president of Ireland (political) they would cease to be a unionist.

  • Greenflag

    @ Son of Strongbow <

    And so ? Ceasing to be a 'unionist ' would not be the end of the world for anyone – neither would ceasing to be a republican or a tory or a communist .

    I sense that given the slide in general support for the main political parties we may be in for a run of independent Presidents and there may even be an agreed 'Independent ' candidate next time around who could reach the 20 bar in a Dail with 30? 40 ? independents ?

    The 'parties ' are losing it -and not just in Ireland or Northern Ireland – Its the same trend in the USA /UK /Italy etc .They have almost all become simply corporate appendages and puppets of the " moneymen " in Wall St , London , Frankfurt and Brussels . There are those who will say that that was always the case anyway -whats new ?

    Whats new is that modern technology has given these powers both government and finance the ability to know more about an individual than his wife /husband /partner etc etc .And this information can be stored forever and updated by the minute .

    Not just Big Brother but Big Brother in a not so Brave New World .

  • Son of Strongbow


    I know it is presumptuous of me, a mere seminarian in the Brotherhood of Bollixs, to question the Abbot, but really Greenfleg let it go.

    Capitalism is by no means perfect but your politics of envy are so last century.

    I accept that your ‘analysis’ is supported across the political spectrum from far left to far right. Although the interpretations of the intent of your feared New World Order across that spectrum differ they all amount to much the same thing – dreaded shadowy lizard people running things in furtherance of their Machiavellian diabolical world domination strategies (no doubt all the while stroking a white cat on their knees).

    Personally I don’t believe in any of the predicted outcomes, from a new worldwide October Revolution to the Rapture.

    Of course ceasing to be a unionist would not be the “end if the world”. However that being said why would you do it? To be President of Ireland? Come on, really?

  • Son of Strongbow


    Sorry, forgot to add a little forgiving 🙂 to close my first paragraph.

  • Greenflag

    @ SOS ,

    “Capitalism is by no means perfect”

    I did’nt say it was . In it’s current manifestation it’s just providing worldwide financial and currency chaos and instability which not only threatens and has caused the collapse of governments but has destroyed the lives of millions of people .” It needs fixing ,

    They (the powers that be ) don’t appear capable of the fix at this time and time is running out.

    ” but your politics of envy are so last century.”

    Are you suggesting I’m envious of say a Bernie Madoff the world’s greatest financial con man ? or of Bernie Dimon now energetically trying to avoid a jail sentence by paying a fine the USA Government some 11 billion dollars ? or perhaps the London whale gang and the Barclay /RBS etc riggers of the Libor rate that gouged billions from people all over the world ?

    I guess these kinda people are your ‘heroes’ . They’re not mine .

    Now Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Richard Branson or Michael O’Leary or any of the many ‘creators ‘ who actually make something and improve a service or provide /originate a new one – I got lots of respect for these creative people and others like them down to the local self employed plumber , builder etc ..

    BTW lizards have been around 300 million years -Homo sapiens a mere 0.3% of that time . The lizards along with bacteria will be around long after homo sapiens self destructs- which could be sooner than most of us would want . 99.9 % of all species who ever existed have become extinct . Even now others are heading for the point of no return as viable organisms .Why would human beings be an exception to this simple fact of life history ? I don’t foresee the ‘lizards ‘ as ever evolving beyond their present state . Why would they need to . They’ re doing fine and their track record is world class .Surviving as a species longer than trilobites( 300 million years ) or dinosaurs (150 million years ) Humanity will be lucky if we get through another 100 years :(. Unionist political parties might survive 50 years at most 😉

    Its not any New World Order that I fear it’s current world chaos and what it would or could result in -A repeat of what happened in 2008 could deliver enough social and economic turmoil that could supply the world or some of it’s leading powers with a new Stalin or Hitler or Mao Tse Tung or some variant despot who could have a new ‘final solution ‘ for mankind’s ills and those who have caused them .

    As to

    “To be President of Ireland?”

    You could do worse . A 7 year fixed term unless you do something incredibly stupid . Excellent accomodation provided , Foreign travel in first class comfort and you get to meet the ‘movers and shakers ‘ of world destruction . And the possibility of a second term .

    If you are thinking of throwing your hat in the ring you’ll have to resign from the Brotherhood of Bollixes unfortunately . On the other hand there is I hear that an opening for a new Grandmaster of the B.o B may be imminent so you may have a better chance of winning that one -In fact I’d say you are a shoo in for Grandmaster being a seminary bollix of the longest standing on slugger that I’m aware of 😉 .I’d offer you my vote but alas they rejected my membership application .Rumours of my Abbothood among said BoB’rs are greatly exaggerated and moreover utter falsehoods . I failed to raver my belief in a supreme being of any ilk not even in the Great Lizard hisself and my self description as an Irish atheist was the final straw 😉

    But you SOS could be da man to lead a shower of bollixes oops I meant brotherhood of -any day of the week 😉

  • David Crookes

    Let me talk in boot-and-fist language. Once you allow citizens of NI to acquire RoI passports, you make it logically impossible to deny those citizens all voting rights pertaining to the RoI.

    Something else. If you want to blur the border by way of preparing for a UI, you don’t abolish the Seanad. You change its composition to some degree. Instead of the Taoiseach appointing his friends to the Seanad, he appoints a number of senators, a majority of them Protestants, from NI.

    NOT THE USUAL SUSPECTS, PLEASE! No professional do-gooders, no trade union leaders, no media starlets, no ecumenical clergy, no superannuated quango-dancers, no peace-process paramilitaries, no spokesmen for ‘victims’, and not too many academics.

    Use a bit of intelligence, do a lot of research, pick the right persons, and in time many citizens of NI may come to believe that a UI is possible.

  • Alan N/Ards

    I can’t believe I missed John “Unionist” Bruton. Thanks for putting right. I take it all back.

  • Alan N/Ards

    That should read “putting me right”. Ta

  • Greenflag

    @ AlanN /Ards

    a.k.a in certain circles as John f*** the f***ing peace process
    Bruton and while I would never condone his cornerboy language it’s hard not to have some sympathy with his description of a process that has gone on now for 40 years plus or minus a decade or two . Still could be worse one supposes -they might still be killing each other but for the “proces”‘ 🙁