The Citizenship Papers is a collection of close to 40 essays written by a diverse group of authors,
political leaders, academics, activists and emigrants speaking their mind. We believe this series
can help to frame the coming national debate and encourage Ireland to embrace a new and more
inclusive relationship with its growing emigrant community. Think of this as an Irish mini-
version of the American Federalist Papers. We expect to release a second tranche of essays later
in the year to build our case for the expansion of voter rights.
We believe the coming national referendum granting emigrant voting rights in future Presidential
elections will lead to a long overdue national debate on Irish identity and citizenship and a robust
discussion on the future role of emigrants in the political life of the nation. All this comes at a
momentous time in the history of the Republic. Indeed the next ten years may be momentous
Are we a shared Ireland? Who gets to decide? Are emigrants included?
#Hometovote was a powerful reminder of the strength of the bond between Ireland and the Irish
abroad, and of emigrants’ aspirations to remain involved in the future of Ireland. By returning to
vote in recent national referendums, Irish emigrants have continued to demonstrate a profound
sense of responsibility to Ireland which too often has gone unrecognized by those who never left.
The Dublin Airport Arrival Terminal was a joyful site of democratic solidarity as emigrants
returned by the planeload. That said #HometoVote should come to an end as soon as possible.
These dramatic journeys homeward highlight the fact that Ireland lags behind the rest of the
world in terms of equality and the right to vote.
In January the International IDEA published the definitive text on out-of-country voting. The
paper notes that “125 states and territories allow people living abroad to participate in legislative
elections, and 88 allow participation in presidential elections. Only 24 countries open subnational
elections up to participation beyond their borders. In addition, 73 countries and territories allow
citizens overseas to participate in referendums.” (note 1) With few exceptions, Irish citizens abroad cannot participate, despite the fact that emigration has been central to the very definition of what it means to be Irish,
As Prof. Colin Harvey of Queens University writes in his essay, “Like Irish citizens around the
world, this wandering is part of our shared experience of displacement, mobility, migration, and
movement. And for many there was no choice involved, a life had to be constructed elsewhere.
This is an element of what it means to be ‘Irish’. Being resident outside of the state does not
make us any less ‘Irish’.“
Yet Ireland continues to remain increasingly out-of-step with the rest of the EU and with global
democratic norms. Over time, the inclusive vision of the Easter Proclamation to cherish all the
children of the nation equally and to create a government elected by the suffrages of all her men
and women has been reduced to a rigid and exclusionary set of voting rules and regulations.
Current voting regulations also do not reflect changing patterns of emigration with young, skilled
Irish emigrants, many of whom are university graduates, leaving and returning to Ireland for
limited durations. These emigrants believe they are Irish wherever they are and are increasingly
determined to have their say in Irish politics, given that they plan to return home and continue to
have a stake in the future of the country. Emigrants continue to be shortchanged as citizens by
the lack of a vote, and because they lack representation in the political system, their views are
not taken into account in policy making. Yet some of these policies have a direct impact on
their lives abroad and can hinder their return to Ireland.
Post-Brexit, the issue of Irish citizenship will take on even greater significance and become
central to the growing debate on a shared Ireland or a United Ireland. In our March 1st
conference a panel entitled “Northern Voices” led by citizen activist Emma DeSouz placed a
great emphasis on the absolute importance of the citizenship provisions of the Good Friday
Agreement; that you can be Irish, British or both. This broad definition of citizenship has kept
the peace for over 20 years and may keep the peace in the momentous years ahead.
Unfortunately, as Prof. Claire Rice notes in her essay “ The 2016 EU referendum reimposed a
binary split in Northern Ireland, which in turn has pushed debate on Irish and British identity into
the spotlight with a sense of heightened urgency. The GFA has been at the centre of these
discussions, and at points has come under strain."
There is a continuing uptick in the number of passport applications received from Northern
Ireland. At the end of 2020 there are about 830,000 Irish citizens and passport holders living just
over the Border and that number will only continue to go up post-Brexit. Some passport holders
seek to establish their Irish identity and others living in the North have sought Irish citizenship to
protect their E.U. rights particularly their freedom of movement. At present there are 1.2 million
people on the voting rolls in Northern Ireland, all of whom have a Constitutional right to Irish
Given the continuing demand for Irish passports in Northern Ireland, it is very possible that in
less than ten years we will reach a point where the majority of citizens in Northern Ireland will
hold dual citizenship. At what point will a fundamental political realignment take place, as the
leaders of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and other political parties decide to embrace an All-
Ireland political strategy and campaign in the North? Will they encourage voting rights for Irish
citizens in Armagh, Belfast, and Derry and not give them to Irish citizens in London, Liverpool
According to the 2017 Options paper 2 released by the government in March of 2017 on
extending voting rights to citizens living outside the State an additional 1.73 million citizens
would be eligible to vote in future Presidential elections should the referendum be approved. To put this number in perspective there are 3.2 million citizens currently on the electoral rolls. These
numbers immediately conjure up a fear of “swamping” but the reality is that emigrants living
overseas fall into different categories (1) those who wish to vote (2) those who don’t think they
should (3) and others who believe that they vote in the state where they reside. In addition, the
State will have to make extensive efforts to publicize the fact emigrants can vote and given that
there is no tradition of voting among emigrants we should not expect a massive turnout of
The fear of “swamping” or “tipping” is often linked to the great Irish American diaspora even
though the vast majority Irish Americans are five and six generations removed from Ireland and
have no right to become citizens and vote. Many of our sister nations in the E.U. and particularly
France have a long established experience in allowing out-of-state citizens to vote. Ireland can
gain much from their experience.
Ireland has a very well-deserved reputation for punching above its weight; at the very top
globally in terms of Direct Foreign Investment, second in the world in terms of quality of life
with a first class diplomatic corps that demonstrated nimbleness and intelligence when it came to
Brexit Ireland sees itself as a Global Island. Yet when it comes voting and the integrity of our
democracy we somehow have become indifferent and complacent; losing touch with core belief
of the Revolution to cherish “all the children of the nation equally” and to establish a new
national government “ representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages
of all her men and women.”
While Ireland has a strong election process ranking #27 th in the world according to a report of the
global Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) 3 / it falls to #137 in the world clustered with Ethiopia,
Kenya and Honduras when it comes to the integrity of its voter registration system. The EIP
report faults Ireland for the inaccuracy of its voter registration system, the lack of postal voting,
denying emigrants the right to vote, the lack of the central information system such as Voter App
and the lack of systems to encourage voter registration particularly among young people.
Ireland is changing rapidly in terms of policy, outlook and how its citizens see themselves and
the nation, yet its restrictive voting policies for citizens living outside the state remain outdated,
discriminatory and undemocratic. The very make up of Ireland's population has changed as well
in the last two decades given inward migration patterns. Last year, Non-Irish nationals from
outside the EU continued to display strong migration flows, accounting for 30,400 (35.6%) of
total immigrants. (Note 4)
The great stumbling block to becoming a more inclusive and democratic nation is oddly a
“hierarchy of Irishness”as defined by another essay writer, citizen activist Emma DeSouza,. This
hierarchy of Irishnees based on geography and time limits is rooted in outdated understanding
of changing emigration patterns. It is extraordinary, in our opinion. that such a young Republic
has become so complacent to the core values on which it was founded and has lost touch with the
universal democratic principle of citizenship: one person, one vote. Thomas Clarke, the founding
father of the revolution, an American citizen and a returned Irish emigrant, may well be turning
over in his grave at this point.
Ireland needs to rebuild and modernize its democratic system of government. The Constitutional
Convention in 2013 recommended giving emigrants the right to vote in future Presidential
elections (with 78% support) and supported the same right for citizens living in Northern Ireland
(73%). The most recent Citizens Assembly (January, 2018) brought forward a series of timely
election reform recommendations including support for postal voting (83%).
Emigration comes with an emotional cost. Buying the airplane ticket is the easy part, saying
goodbye to your mother is much more challenging. As Kathleen O’Sullivan ,a mother of an
“I know he had to go. I know it was better for him. But I wish he was here. There are
times when I am at family events, and I almost zone out thinking there is one person
missing from the dinner table. Whether it is a birthday or communion or christening or
Christmas, there are so many he has missed out on. The phone and the advent of
FaceTime and such have made it easier. Yet I still feel crushed that he is so far away. He
may have left Ireland, but Ireland has never left him, and knowing my son, it never will.
His voice deserves to be heard.“
There have been two pivotal moments in Irish history when the right to vote was expanded.
The first, under Daniel O’Connell with the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act and the
second with the founding of the Free State, when women were granted equal rights to vote. We
believe a third historic opportunity to expand the voting franchise is at hand and that The
Citizenship Papers can be a spark that engages the Irish people here at home and abroad to take
this historic step.