I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue for debate. In the recent past citizens of countries such as Russia, Latvia and Egypt have been given the right to exercise their franchise in national elections while living overseas. In many cases, voting is managed by overseas diplomatic facilities and embassies. Other countries have extended the franchise on a more limited basis. Paraguay held a referendum on the issue in 2011. Another country in which the question of the franchise is being discussed is the United States, which allows citizens to cast ballots while living overseas.
Unfortunately, many Irish citizens are once again emigrating due to economic difficulties but I hope their departure is shortlived. The CSO has indicated that a large proportion of those who emigrate are likely to return when economic conditions improve.
In the context of the Government's commitment to a constitutional convention, I hope to start a conversation about whether there is a desire to grant the franchise to those who live overseas and, if so, the extent to which it would be offered. As the constitutional convention is at an early stage perhaps provision could be made to include in its membership those who emigrated since the 1950s so that their voices can be heard. Irish people living in the UK, Australia and America are anxious to keep abreast of events in Ireland and to make sure the Government is not only governing on behalf of those who are resident in the State but also creating the conditions which would allow emigrants to return.
Articles 12 and 16 of the Constitution set out the eligibility of voters in presidential and Dáil elections. My understanding is - the Minister can correct me if I am wrong - constitutionally there is no geographic impediment to this because by law the franchise is extended overseas on a very limited basis to those working in diplomatic missions and members of our Defence Forces working overseas on behalf of the United Nations. So there is a mechanism by which it could be extended. There is reason to review the matter. We recently had a presidential election, including candidates who were not necessarily able to vote for themselves as they lived outside the jurisdiction - albeit in a different part of the island. While the text of the Topical Issue I submitted was fairly broad and I know the presidency is being reviewed as part of the constitutional convention committed to in the programme for Government, this might be something the Government could take on board.