Tens of thousands of recent Irish emigrants could potentially legally vote during the referendum on the Eighth Amendment on Friday, May 25th. But, in an ironic turn of events, our voting system will only accommodate those with the means to travel. As founders of the We’re Coming Back and Get the Boat to Vote campaigns, we were both involved in organising the #Hometovote movement for the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015. Despite the public outpouring of support, and the welcome back for those who “voted with their feet” as Enda Kenny put it, absolutely nothing has been done since to facilitate an emigrant vote. Why? Under our electoral laws, Irish emigrants may fully retain their voting rights at home for a period of 18 months after leaving. Although the vast majority of citizens overseas have been out of the country for longer than a year and a half, those who have recently left – most of them too young to have voted in the 1983 referendum that brought in the Eighth Amendment, or even been alive to see it enacted – may yet have their say on May 25th.
Registration for a postal vote in this referendum closed last Saturday. But, unlike students living away from home or Irish residents away for work purposes, ordinary Irish emigrants could not avail of this option, even if they fall within the 18-month restriction.
If they want to vote, they have to instead seek time off work and purchase expensive flights back to their home constituency. Both are considerable barriers to exercising a democratic right, particularly for those living in the US , Australia, Canada or New Zealand.