30/09/2013

NI To Vote In Presidential Elections

Northern Irish residents could be given the right to vote in the Irish presidential elections, following overwhelming support for the proposal at the Constitutional Convention.

A poll at a meeting last week found 78% believe voting rights for presidential elections should be extended to those living outside the Republic.

73% agreed that residents in Northern Ireland should be allowed to have their say on the next Irish president.

The Constitutional Convention was formed last year as a means to discuss proposed amendments to the Irish Constitution.

It contains various representatives, including 29 members of the Oireachtas and four representatives of Northern Ireland political parties.

Sinn Féin welcomed the move. Party leader Gerry Adams said: "The issue of voting rights in presidential elections for citizens living in the north and those living abroad is an important one for all democrats, but particularly for citizens in the north.

"The right to vote was hard fought for there in our own lifetime. It is a fundamental human right. The fact that Irish citizens living across the border cannot vote for the President of Ireland is another anomaly of partition, but it is also a form of discrimination against citizens of this state.

"President Michael D Higgins and before him, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, spoke and acted as presidents of all of this island. This is how they are regarded in the north too. The Government should act on the recommendations of the Convention to allow the people of the north and those who have left our shores to vote in presidential elections."

But Alliance Party Chief Whip Stewart Dickson said: "The Good Friday Agreement was a carefully constructed constitutional settlement. It recognised that people in Northern Ireland could classify themselves as either British or Irish. However, the Agreement did not create joint authority or sovereignty. Instead it stresses Northern Ireland as part of the UK, until or unless the people decide otherwise.

"At the time of the Agreement, this right to Irish nationality was not extended to the right to vote in elections within the state of the Republic of Ireland, whether for the President or for member of the Dail. That should have been the obvious opportunity for this step, and to do so in a transparent and agreed way.

"I would also be concerned that the Irish President could be seen as the Head of State for Nationalists and the Queen for Unionists in Northern Ireland. I do not think this type of division would be helpful for community relations.

"Alliance will continue to keep an open mind on this issue, but any changes to the fundamental balance of the Good Friday Agreement should proceed on the basis of revised agreements between the parties and governments."

(IT/MH)

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