Unionists Row Over Irish Presidential Election

DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly has rejected claims that the President of Ireland is head of state for Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland, sparking an online spat with unionist rival Mike Nesbitt.

The South Belfast MP was responding to an SDLP campaign for Irish citizens in Northern Ireland to be granted a vote in the Irish presidential election.

Voters in the Irish Republic will go to the polls on Friday 26 October, with Michael D. Higgins tipped to comfortably retain his position as President of Ireland.

Erin O'Donnell, equality officer for the SDLP Youth Wing posted on Twitter: "Citizens living in north Belfast should have the same opportunity as those living in north Dublin to vote for their head of state if they wish to do so."

Mrs Little Pengelly replied saying that the comments were a "misunderstanding of the Good Friday Agreement".

"It recognised the multiple identities in Northern Ireland-but also a clear mutual recognition of difference of political reality (NI part of UK), versus political aspiration (united Ireland)."
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She also said that it was "factually and constitutionally" wrong to indicate the Irish President is 'head of state' for Irish citizens in Northern Ireland.

UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt took exception to the South Belfast MP's response, given the DUP's opposition to the 1998 agreement.

"Why are you defending the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement?," he wrote.

"I was at Castle Buildings on the day it was agreed. Your party was screaming Lundy Judas and Traitor at members of my party.

"I'd appreciate a copy of the minutes of the meeting when the DUP changed policy, please," the Strangford MLA said.

Mrs Little Pengelly responded that the comments were "bizarre" and said she was only pointing out the political and legal status of Northern Ireland.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has called for Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland to be granted a vote in the Irish presidential election.

Irish citizens living outside the Republic of Ireland currently lose their right to vote after having left the country for 18 months.

A referendum to extend voting rights in Irish presidential elections is planned for next year.


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