Video: Professor Colin Harvey says Irish citizens in Derry should have the vote in 2025 presidential election

Professor Colin Harvey has said presidential voting rights must be extended to Irish citizens from Derry.

The human rights expert said it was not an academic matter and Irish people living outside the State should not be treated as second-class citizens.

Professor Colin Harvey.

Professor Colin Harvey.

The legal scholar made the comments during a briefing of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

“When we talk about the conversation on presidential voting rights, it is not an academic conversation for people like me. I am an Irish citizen.

“I was born in Derry, sold out and now live in Belfast, which is the worst thing someone can do,” he said.

“This affects me personally. I would like to vote for my president so it is not just an academic issue.

“I would ask everybody in this room to think about our families - our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and cousins - and the people to whom we have had to say goodbye at ferry terminals and airports.

“When I travel home on the train this evening, am I also waving goodbye to my basic civil and political rights?

“There are statistics about the number of states that do this and the way they do it but at the heart of this is a very human story about people - our own families - and about including them,” said the Queen’s professor.

In 2013 a Constitutional Convention recommended a referendum on whether or not the Constitution should be changed to allow all Irish citizens a vote in Irish presidential elections.

A poll was earmarked for May 2019 but this was later rescheduled for late October, early November.

It’s now been put back again and is not likely to take place until the new year at the earliest.

In September, the 39th Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019 was published by the Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Once it passes both houses of the Oireachtas a referendum can be ordered. If the referendum passes people from Derry will be able to vote in the 2025 Presidential election.

Prof. Harvey said: “The Irish Constitution speaks to all citizens. It talks about a shared island and speaks to the diaspora as part of a global conversation about citizenship and the Irish nation.”

A yes vote in the planned referendum would bring Ireland into line with other republics around the world, he said.

“We live in a world of myths and fake news and in rather febrile and difficult times. Ultimately, having thought about this issue for a number of years and having spoken to the Constitutional Convention in 2013 and done quite a bit of work on it, my view, given what is happening internationally, is that this is a modest, reasonable change that relates specifically to the voting rights in presidential elections.

“Others do this. It is good to see the Government making progress on the issue and it would be useful to see a referendum on it as soon as possible. Support for the principle of non-resident voting rights is growing and has gained widespread European and international support,” said the Derry native.