Tuesday, 24 November 2020
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. It gives me the opportunity to outline to the House the position in relation to the commitment in the programme for Government to hold a referendum on extending presidential voting rights to Irish citizens resident outside the State. I appreciate that in his contribution, the Senator mentioned some of the main timeline points, to which I also will allude.
The fifth report of the Convention on the Constitution, of November 2013, supported an extension of the right to vote in presidential elections to citizens resident outside the State, including those resident in Northern Ireland, and recommended that a referendum be held to amend the Constitution. The recent programme for Government reaffirmed the commitment of the Government to submit this proposal to referendum. The office of the President is representative of all Irish people, and the extension of the vote to Irish citizens outside the State would provide the President with a truly inclusive mandate as the democratic choice of all our citizens.
My Department and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage have been working closely to analyse the various policy, legal and practical issues that would arise in a proposed extension of voting rights.
As the Senator noted, the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019 was initiated on 16 September 2019 by the then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.While the Bill itself is relatively short, it is a significant piece of legislation that aims to extend voting rights at presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State, in line with the next scheduled presidential election in 2025.
A referendum commission was also established by order of the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government on 26 September 2019 to inform the electorate about the subject matter of the Bill, subject to it passing both Houses of the Oireachtas. In broad terms, the Bill provides for the replacement of the existing Articles 12.2.2° and 12.3.3° of the Constitution as well as for the insertion of a new Article 12A in the Constitution. These amendments would extend the right to vote for the office of President to all citizens, not solely to those who are ordinarily resident in the State as is currently the case, for elections held on or after 1 January 2025, which would be the beginning of the year in which the next scheduled election for the Office of President would fall due.
Implementing legislation, by way of amendments to the Electoral Acts, will be required to give practical effect to an extension of the franchise if the proposal to amend the Constitution is approved at a referendum. While the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Thirty-second Dáil, the Government has recently restored the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019 to the Dáil Order Paper. The date for the holding of the referendum will be decided once the legislation has been approved by the Oireachtas.