The announcement by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that the government will green light a referendum on whether or not to give all Irish citizens, from Derry to Delhi, the right to elect future presidents, has been hailed by local political representatives.
Speaking at a Friendly Sons of St. Patrick event in Philadelphia at the weekend, Mr. Kenny, confirmed that the Irish Cabinet decided last week to move ahead with an outstanding Convention on the Constitution recommendation that it open up the franchise to all Irish people, without discrimination as to where they were born.
Sinn Féin Councillor Sandra Duffy welcomed the decision, which follows consistent calls from Derry City and Strabane District Council for the Irish Government to accede to the convention’s demand for a poll.
However, Ms. Duffy said the Taoiseach now needs to set a clear timetable for a referendum.
“The Taoiseach’s announcement is very welcome, but the Irish Government needs to quickly clarify what this means in practice and when the referendum will be held,” she said.
“The office of the President is regarded as being one for everyone, and that is how it is regarded here in the North also, particularly among Nationalists and Republicans.
“We have already had the ridiculous situation where a former President, Mary McAleese, had she still been living in Belfast, would not have been able to vote for herself. This needs to change.
“We are not just seeking voting rights in presidential elections for nationalists in the North, but for people of all communities. Everyone on the island of Ireland deserves the opportunity to be able to vote for the President,” said Ms. Duffy.
SDLP MP Mark Durkan also welcomed the announcement that a referendum would go ahead.
“The President of Ireland, under the constitution, is supposed to represent the whole of the Irish nation – which is a much bigger concept than the 26 counties of Ireland,” he said.
“I therefore strongly believe that people living in Derry and throughout the North have a legitimate claim to vote for the Irish President.
“This would also provide a real opportunity for people here to engage in politics at a national level,” he added.
Ms. Duffy continued: “This also goes beyond the rights of people living in the North; Sinn Féin is also seeking the extension of Presidential voting rights to Irish citizens living abroad.
“The St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that take place in virtually every country in the world prove this.
“Organisations working with the Irish communities overseas are actively campaigning for voting rights. Allowing people overseas to vote in elections in their own countries is not a new idea. More than 120 countries have already legislated to allow their citizens living outside the state to vote – we need to do the same.
“Sinn Féin believes in extending the vote to allow more people to participate in the democratic process. We want voting rights extended to people living in the North, to Irish communities living abroad, and to 16 year olds.”