The referendum to decide whether Irish citizens living abroad will be allowed to vote in presidential elections looks certain to be pushed back to next year.
It is the second time the referendum has been delayed. The vote was originally expected to take place in May alongside the local and European elections. It was then expected to take place later this month or in November but the Irish government has yet to name the date despite publishing the Bill last week.
While the Irish government has refused to offer an official comment, it is understood that the uncertainties of Brexit have scuppered plans to have the vote this year.
The Irish Times has reported that government sources had said that more work needed to be done to prepare for the referendum, and sources expected it would not be completed in time for a November poll.
Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora Ciaran Cannon, during his visit to Australia in May, revealed that the government was worried about a ‘no’ vote.
If successful, the referendum will pave the way for Irish citizens living abroad to vote in presidential elections. The 2025 presidential election would be the first in which Irish citizens not resident in Ireland could vote.
Under the proposed change, all Irish citizens of voting age would be eligible to vote but only in presidential elections.
The government estimates that there are 3.6 million Irish citizens outside of the Republic. This figure includes the total population of Northern Ireland (approximately 1.8 million) as well as those who have not reached voting age.
Online registration and postal voting would be used to extend the franchise, according to reports in Ireland. The campaign period would also be extended to accommodate a global electorate.
Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA), the primary lobby group to extend the franchise to non-resident Irish nationals, welcomed the publication of the Bill which proposes to amend Article 12 of the constitution.
“Great news that the Irish government has tonight published the bill on extending presidential voting rights, ahead of a referendum on the issue,” VICA said in a tweet.
The referendum had been originally due to take place in May, alongside the divorce referendum and the local and European elections.
However, the Cabinet in February opted to delay the presidential vote.
The Taoiseach said the possibility of the vote being contentious and the uncertainty of Brexit were factors in the decision.
Speaking at the time, Leo Varadkar told the Dáil: "It will involve a good deal of planning, it needs a good campaign and we want to win it."
Ireland is almost unique among western democracies in denying its citizens abroad a vote.
Countries like France have global constituencies for its citizens abroad and elected representatives sit in the French parliament. Australia allows its citizens abroad to vote for up to six years after leaving the country. However, you must be first registered to vote while resident in Australia.
In 2016, a Convention on the Constitution voted in favour of extending the vote in presidential elections to Irish citizens living abroad
The possibility of citizens abroad being allowed to vote in Dáil and Seanad elections or referenda was not even considered by the convention.
When the government originally announced plans for the referendum earlier this year, there was an almost immediate backlash against the extension of voting rights.
Radio presenter and journalist Ciara Kelly wrote: “It's my view that many of the diaspora look back at the old sod with green tinted glasses and see us largely stowed in moth balls at the point at which they or their parents or grandparents left. But that is not who we are. We are a young, vibrant, outward looking, progressive, liberal country. I'm not sure that is truly recognised by our ex-pats.“
She went on: “I would stick to the old rule - no representation without taxation. No vote unless you have to live with the consequences of that vote.”