The Irish government has approved a plan to hold a referendum which, if passed, will allow Irish citizens living abroad to vote in presidential elections.
The poll is expected to take place in late October and the Varadkar government will be campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote.
Under the proposed change, all Irish passport holders of voting age would be eligible to vote for the President. The next presidential election is due in 2025.
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.
If the proposed referendum passes, the 2025 presidential election would be the first in which Irish citizens not resident in Ireland could vote.
The referendum had been 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 considered by the convention.
The wording of the referendum and the surrounding legislation is expected to be available by the end of July.
In a statement, the Irish Government said: “The presidency serves a very different function to the Dáil and Seanad. This referendum will be about reimagining a presidency for the 21st century, a presidency that represents the Irish nation not just the State, and that is elected by all citizens.”
The referendum has been welcomed by the Votes For Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) group.
“Wonderful news that this referendum has been confirmed,” the group tweeted. “Extending the Presidential vote to Irish citizens abroad acknowledges their Irishness and puts us in line with over 30 other European countries on voting rights.”
But there has been an almost immediate backlash against the extension of voting rights with radio presenter and journalist Ciara Kelly who 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.”