Council demands votes for all Irish citizens in Presidential elections but unionists say it’s pointless and Donnelly says it’s partitionist

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Derry City and Strabane District Council has voted to push for votes for all Irish citizens in future Presidential elections.

A motion tabled by Sinn Féin MLA Councillor Maolíosa McHugh, recommending Council call for a Convention on the Constitution recommendation that voting rights be extended to all Irish people, regardless of residency was passed with the support of the SDLP and independent councillors, Sean Carr and Darren O’Reilly at the monthly meeting of Council on Thursday.

Councillor McHugh said: “I welcome the fact that Derry City and Strabane Council has now given its support for the campaign following my motion. This follows a similar endorsement from Mid Ulster Council this week.

“There is a growing demand across the country for the extension of voting rights in Presidential elections and we are calling on the Taoiseach to change his position on this issue.”

SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said: “We believe that all Irish people, whether they live in Derry or Donegal, Dubai or Detroit, should have a say in who our head of state is,” he said.

“Many countries, 93 in fact, allow their overseas citizens to vote. Ireland has one of the strictest policies on the planet, where we forbid almost all expatriates from voting. This needs relaxed.”

He said the system was prohibitive and quipped: “It’s a bizarre system. We will all remember a very high profile, well respected Derry person that stood in the last presidential election. Given the current system, not one person in this chamber or from right across this city and district, and I am sure there would have been many of us, had the opportunity to go out and vote for Dana.”

Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly refused to vote on the motion and said the Presidential office was a partitionist office and representative only of the 26 County ‘Free State’. He accused former Presidential candidate Martin McGuinness of insulting the memory of “every Irish person who fought in the struggle” by recognising the Irish Defence Forces as Óglaigh na hÉireann.

The DUP’s Graham Warke likened the motion to that in support of the BDS campaign against Israel suggesting it wasn’t relevant for constituents.

“This perpetuates a pattern of behaviour that is making this Council look more like a playground that an institution trying to better our city. We could be discussing the A6 and A5, improvements to our port and the 100 new jobs announced in our area. Instead we have nationalist councillors trying to outdo one another with pointless motions,” he said.