The vast majority of democratic countries in the world offer the right to vote to their citizens living abroad. Ireland is an exception to what is now the norm. Political rights are a central component of modern citizenship, and voting is a significant right in modern democracies and assumed to be enjoyed by all citizens, on a formally equal basis. Dismissing fears of a “hypothetical mass invasion of electors from abroad”, for instance, a 1999 Council of Europe report argued that “the issue has nothing to do with the number of people concerned, but is essentially a matter of fundamental, inalienable human rights”. The call for the introduction of voting rights for disenfranchised overseas citizens is growing louder. The Irish Government is now in danger of a case being taken against it at the European Court of Justice, challenging the restriction on voting rights and thereby forcing the State to act. Why has Ireland had such a chequered record on this issue?
More than 20 years ago, a measure that would have ended the disenfranchisement of Irish citizens abroad was only narrowly defeated in the Dáil. We have not been that close since.
The issue of votes for emigrants was the subject of much public debate in the 1990s, prompted by the high rates of emigration in the late 1980s and the formation of lobbying groups such as Glor an Deorai in Britain, the Irish Emigrant Vote Campaign in the US, and Irish Votes Abroad in Australia.
… Hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens have emigrated since 2010, and they are not returning at the rate the Government had hoped. Both individual citizens and the Irish body politic have little to fear and everything to gain from deepening all forms of engagement with the diaspora, including increasing the likelihood of return migration.