Electoral (Extension of Voting Rights to Non-Irish Citizens) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to extend voting rights in elections to Dáil Éireann and to the European Parliament to all adults ordinarily resident in the State.

This Bill will extend voting rights in Dáil and European elections to all people over the age of 18 who are ordinarily resident in the State, which is the same qualification that applies to local elections. We are proposing the Bill because there are 500,000 people living in this country who are not citizens. These people live and work in our communities and their children go to our schools. They pay taxes to the State and are affected by all of the national decisions taken in this House, yet most are not permitted to vote in elections to the national Parliament, which sets the taxes that they pay, the laws that they must live by and the policies around key issues such as employment rights, wage rates, education, health and housing.

The 2016 census data on nationality is not due to be published until later this year so I will refer to the 2011 figures. According to the 2011 census, almost 12% of the State's population is made up of people who are not citizens of the State. These people are not represented although their representation would be the equivalent of 18 Deputies. Most shocking, 26.4% of 25 year olds to 44 year olds are not citizens of this country, which means that one in four of people in that age bracket do not have full voting rights. This is the age group that is most affected by the issues such as those that I mentioned, including workers' rights, housing and the eighth amendment. Some 9.5% of our population does not have a vote in Dáil elections. For me in Dublin West, in particular, this has huge resonance because the constituency I represent is probably the most diverse in the country. According to the 2011 census, almost 23% of those living in my constituency were not born in the country, 18% of its population is made up of people who are not citizens and 16% of Africans and 9.3% of Asians in the State live in Fingal. We have a hugely diverse population. All of these people are living and working here long term and many are in relationships and are married, etc. Every time I canvass during an election or referendum campaign in Dublin West, it is evident that whole areas, such as Ongar and Tyrrelstown, are effectively disenfranchised. I have campaigned on many policies in Dublin West including the repeal the eighth and marriage equality campaigns. People are affected by those issues but they do not have a vote. Brexit will also have repercussions because it will remove the right of British citizens who live here to vote in European elections. Our Bill would retain that right.

It is often asked why people do not get citizenship or become naturalised so that they can vote. There are a couple of issues with it and the first is the cost involved. It is very expensive. For example, it costs Europeans who live here more than €1,100 to get citizenship just to vote. Further, people should have the right to keep their citizenship and, in my view, should not have to take on another citizenship to vote. We do not expect Irish people to become British citizens in order to vote there. There is another real problem that has not been tackled. Those who become citizens do not know that they must upgrade their entitlement to vote from an entitlement to vote in local elections to an entitlement to vote in Dáil and European elections. Therefore, they often do not do it and there seems to be no effort on the part of local or State authorities to ensure that they know how to do it. This means that these people are effectively being disenfranchised.

I am mindful that our Bill would not give people a right to vote in referendums, as this would require a constitutional change, but it should be considered. If we can point to countries that allow this such as New Zealand, where people who are resident there for a year are allowed to participate fully and to have full voting rights. We should do the same because we have a huge problem. When we look around the Chamber, we see that we have a very white, male and older representation. This will not change unless we give people the right to participate fully in this democracy. Huge interest has developed in this Bill and I suggest that it is something the Government should take on.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.