Who should be allowed to vote in Irish general elections?

Sally Dobie

Being able to express your opinion is nothing short of a human right, but every country has a slightly different view on whether foreign residents should be able to take part in that country’s democracy.

As a foreign national living in Ireland I definitely cannot speak for Irish people, nor would I want to. All I can share is my experience and thoughts on voting rights.

Irish residents with British citizenship can legally vote in General, Local and European elections here, but cannot vote in referendums. Similarly, EU citizens residing in Ireland are permitted to vote in Local and European elections; and non-EU residents can vote in local elections.

Irish citizens living abroad are not given the same rights: if you are an Irish citizen and reside, or plan to reside outside of the country for more than 18 months, in most cases you cannot be added to the Register of Electors.

The rules are slightly different in the UK, where British citizens can register to be an overseas voter for up to 15 years after leaving the country. Irish citizens resident in the UK can also vote in anything up to a general election. 

For me, this is the right choice. Although I’ve been residing in Ireland for over two years, there’s always been the chance that I may move back to my birth country. In this case I’ve been given the opportunity to participate in decisions for the future of that country. 

Unfortunately, despite any future plans, overseas Irish are not given the same privilege. This could mean in the long run they may even be less likely to return, if their voices aren’t heard back home. 

Then there’s the issue of allowing certain residents more voting rights than others, without taking into account the length of their residency or plans to stay.

I made the controversial decision to not vote in the General election although I am legally allowed to. Due to my future in Ireland currently being uncertain, I may be moving out before the year is over. In this case, I don’t believe I have the right to have input in the future of the country, no matter my political views. 

On the other end of this, a non-EU national who has been in Ireland for years and plans to stay for many more should be able to have a say in who represents them in the future. 

Voting rights will always be a tough call, because depending on what rights you afford each group, you’re effectively causing a rift between them. Ireland is a special case in the way that referenda make up such an integral part of legislation. 

Only Irish citizens, to my knowledge, are allowed to vote in a referendum, even though UK citizens can vote in national and local elections. At first this decision confused me, but maybe choosing your representatives rather than being able to change legislation is a good middle-ground for foreign residents. I hope overseas Irish can be afforded the same.

Sally Dobie

Image: Joy Nwagiriga