Voting Rights in Northern Ireland: Discussion

I welcome our guests, Mr. Mark Bassett and Professor Colin Harvey. They will address our meeting today on the topic of voting rights. We will invite both witnesses to give their opening statements and then we will take some questions from the committee. Before we begin, I remind members of the committee, guests and those in the Visitors Gallery to ensure that their mobile phones, tablets and any other electronic devices are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference with the recording equipment in the committee rooms, even when they are on silent mode.

With regard to privilege, I remind members of the longstanding parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against either a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009 witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Both witnesses are very welcome. I believe Mr. Bassett will speak first.

Mr. Mark Bassett

Professor Harvey will deliver the opening statement.

Whichever way the witnesses would like to proceed is okay.

Professor Colin Harvey

I thank the Chair and members for the invitation to appear before the committee today. Perhaps it would help if I began by telling the committee something about who we are. I am the professor of human rights law in the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast. My colleague, Mark Bassett, is a barrister at law in Northern Ireland. We have been working on this particular issue for a number of years and doing quite a bit of research on it. I spoke on the issue at the Constitutional Convention in 2013. Mr. Bassett and I have delivered a number of presentations on this particular issue.

The main point we would like to make today, and which I have hopefully made clear in the opening statement, is that we think that this is a reasonable constitutional step to take. All the evidence at which we have looked and all the work which we have undertaken has led us to the conclusion that it is a reasonable step to take constitutionally. Obviously, I will not stop there, I will say a bit more, but we think that voting rights are fundamental civil and political rights. They are fundamental to the democratic system. The Constitutional Convention, as members of the committee will know, made its recommendation in 2013 and, having looked comparatively around the world and at what the Constitutional Convention came up with, I welcome that conclusion and recognise that it is a relatively modest initiative and step to take.

We also welcome the announcement of support for this initiative by the Government and also the very helpful and detailed options paper which was delivered in March. We welcome that but, like many people, we have noted that there tends to be general support for the idea and the principle in debates but that one of the endemic problems has been actually moving it forward, in the sense of naming a date for the referendum and when it will actually happen in practice. Our sense is that is largely the situation at the moment. In terms of the Irish system, Ireland has a comparatively restrictive system with regard to citizen's rights, which is largely residence based. That is very notable when one looks at the international experience.

In a sense, we have concluded that this is really an emergent international trend around Europe. Many states are doing this. Certainly one can see that from the 1980s and 1990s onwards many states have taken the decision to grant external voting rights to their citizens. In taking that step there is a recognition of equal citizenship, but also a recognition that it can actually be done. If one looks at the recent French presidential election, one can see examples of people outside of France voting in those elections in Ireland and Britain. There are examples of people who are living in Northern Ireland voting in presidential elections elsewhere. I could give example from Romania, Poland, etc. This is happening. People are doing it. What we have seen from the evidence is that it can actually be done. The options paper gives many examples of that.

It is important to underline, and we really want to underline it today, that this debate should, and must, transcend party politics.

It is a debate about equal citizenship, and I think it should remain at that level. Without question the hard questions should be asked about how to make this happen; in practice it is a fundamental principle of equal citizenship that does and should transcend party politics.

In conclusion, I will outline three principles. First, there is an argument about equal citizenship. There is an argument that in relation to fundamental civil and political rights, like voting rights, that all citizens wherever they happen to reside should be treated equally.

Second, it seems clear to me that the criteria of using residence as a basis for excluding citizens from voting rights is increasingly being questioned as a matter of basic civil and political rights. The worry would be that people will increasingly start asking hard questions about Ireland's current nearly blanket exclusion of citizens on that question of basic civil and political rights. Third, questions are increasingly being raised about European Union law in the sense that people by exercising their EU free movement rights may, oddly, end up becoming disenfranchised when they move elsewhere in their country of origin.

For a number of principles, on equality citizenship, on civil and political rights grounds and, increasingly, with questions of European law, profound questions are being raised about Ireland's near-blanket exclusion of citizens who are resident outside of the State in this context.

I attended the Constitutional Convention in 2013. Although I am speaking today with my academic hat on, I am also somebody who is personally affected by this matter. For somebody like me it is not an academic matter, and this matter affects my children as well. I was not going to say the following but I have decided to do so. This morning, as I got ready to leave my house, my daughter asked me what I was doing today. I told her that I was going to the Oireachtas to talk to a committee. She asked me to do a better job explaining that than I had done, which she often says to me. I responded, although not in such grand words, by telling her that she had a right to vote in her own country in the future, and she is nine years old at present. For me, there is an academic argument but there is also a principles argument. It is not just an academic matter for somebody like me. In a sense, the evidence exists to support this but there are also personal perspectives. The question on my mind, which I am keen to explore with the committee today, is when a date will be announced for a referendum on voting rights. We rather optimistically, as the committee will see from our opening statement, expected a referendum to take place last year. We probably should have said "may happen" but that is our sense of where the debate might have reached.

My colleague, Mr. Mark Bassett, will continue our presentation.

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Mr. Mark Bassett: I thank the committee for the invitation to attend. I will begin by speaking about the Presidency and how it is an ideal institution to open up voting rights for non-resident citizens.

The Presidency, at its heart, is a symbolic office. It represents, which is largely accepted, the citizenry as a whole rather than just the State. I recall the inaugural address made by President Higgins. He said that part of his hope was to represent all citizens. The Presidency is an office that is largely insulated from controversial political choices. It is an institution that best represents nationality and citizenship. We would advocate a system of election that matches that situation.

Although our focus is on presidential elections, the types of election where external voting may apply can vary too. For example, the Legislature, presidential elections, referendums and sub-national elections. The committee can see from our opening statement that there are a number of different electoral franchises in Ireland. They all have a separate legal basis and a distinct character. They seek to achieve different objectives. None of those franchises aligns completely or neatly with any of the predominant principles of granting political rights in a democracy. They do not seem to be based on all contributing or all subjected principles since those resident in the State but who do not hold Irish or British citizenship can be excluded.

Our focus is on the voting rights of Irish citizens wherever they are located. We have a particular interest in the Northern Ireland context. It seems to us the exclusion of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland from voting in presidential elections should not be sustained. There is nothing in the Irish Constitution or the proposed amendments that should be a source of anxiety for those who do not wish to avail of their entitlement to Irish citizenship in the North or who do not wish to participate in an Irish presidential election. The Good Friday Agreement is a constitutional bridge between Ireland and Britain. On previously contested issues of sovereignty and identity the two states are in agreement.

A very important aspect of the Good Friday Agreement was the clear right to Irish citizenship for those who wish to avail of that right in the jurisdiction. At the core of that is the entitlement to Irish citizenship. It is our argument that that right must allow for some participation. It is not meant as a token acknowledgement or placebo or just limited to the availability of a passport. It should involve some level of contribution or participation because without that citizenship is devalued.

Professor Harvey has explained that there are good human rights reasons to extend the franchise. He has said that there is a possibility that the current restrictions are at least suspect, having regard to European Union law.

The best argument for an extended franchise is to consider the principles and values contained in the Irish Constitution. Every constitution tells a story. It is more than just law. It is part-philosophy, part-sociology, part-history and outlines hopes for the future. The Irish Constitution specifically recognises partition, citizenship and the diaspora. The Irish Constitution speaks of the diaspora and citizens beyond the State's borders in very warm terms but they need to be recognised. There needs to be a way in which those citizens can contribute to and participate in the political life of Ireland.

The Presidency is a very good example of the breadth of Irish citizenry. Irish Presidents have come from Ulster, Connaught, Leinster, Munster, London and, most famously, from New York. A franchise that reflects that breadth of citizenry can only be a good thing and should not be feared.

I thank both witnesses for their presentations. We will have questions from members now.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations.

By way of introduction, my initial interest would be to ensure that every citizen in the Twenty-six Counties can cast their vote. I do not have the percentages with me. There has been talk of personal, postal, proxy and electronic voting, although we should not dare to mention electronic voting. The franchise in the Twenty-six Counties does not allow anybody to vote by proxy. It is amazing that one can vote by proxy in the North. Equally, for somebody to achieve a postal vote in the South one must be housebound or a diplomat. In terms of personal voting, an awful lot of people are disenfranchised before we ever start.

I have no issue with the proposal on the presidential election idea, but I have yet to be convinced. The delegates have studied it, probably intensively. Is there a danger, or is the country so small, that the diaspora or others could actually influence the result unduly? Mr. Bassett is obviously suggesting the franchise expand beyond presidential elections, but it is a good example with which to kick off. I have no difficulty with that, but I have yet to be convinced. Where local elections are concerned, local election constituencies are such that people could actually be elected, based on citizenship, who are not even resident in the country. The delegates have studied this. Is the size of the population an issue in that we could allow people living outside the State to overly influence decisions at national or local government level?

Professor Harvey and Mr. Bassett are more than welcome and I thank them for coming. They have destroyed my ambitions to become Uachtarán na hÉireann because, if the diaspora were to be included, the €1 million I believed I would need to win a presidential election would become €1 billion.

Professor Harvey has made the point that to do this we need to take the matter off the political agenda and move it beyond party political issues. He is correct. If this is ever to happen, it will have to be taken away from the political parties and driven by the Independents. My colleague, Senator Billy Lawless, is pushing this agenda all the time, but the truth of the matter is that we live in a very political state. In a nutshell, there is a great fear that if we allowed the diaspora to vote in presidential elections, for example, those political entities with the greatest representation in the United States, for example, would take every election for the foreseeable future. Therefore, there will be natural resistance to extending the franchise beyond the island of Ireland.

Let us go back to the issue of Northern Ireland. Every citizen in Northern Ireland, apart from the 100,000 expats who are British and not entitled to an Irish passport, is entitled to an Irish passport. I very much favour the view that if one holds an Irish passport, one should be entitled to vote in the presidential election, at least. I acknowledge Deputy Declan Breathnach's point, however, in that we have great difficulty in getting people to vote, even in local elections. How the implementation of the proposal could change the political landscape here remains to be seen.

I accept the delegates' point on equal rights for citizens in the election of a President. and I do not have a difficulty with it. I also accept the point on our being very residentially minded in our view of those who are entitled to vote. If one is resident in the Twenty-six Counties, one can vote and if one is not, one cannot, with the exception of personnel on service overseas who have a postal vote. Nobody else I know of overseas has the right to vote.

Professor Harvey mentioned European law. If somebody were to explore it, where would he or she go with it? On what legislation would he or she rely regarding the right to vote in any election on this island?

My final question is for Mr. Bassett. I refer to the notion of electing the President through the diaspora or anyone who can claim to be Irish or is the holder of an Irish passport. To me, it makes perfect sense, but I understand what Deputy Declan Breathnach is talking about. I was not joking when I said that to get to the diaspora, a potential candidate would need to have substantial funds available. Canvassing in the United States alone would cost an absolute fortune. That will be the main point that will militate against extending the vote beyond the island of Ireland. What European legislation is being relied on? I would like an answer to that question.

Are we talking about the island of Ireland which is one problem, or are we talking about the entire diaspora? If we are talking about the latter, do the delegates envisage election results being slanted by those with political representation outside the State? I would like an answer to my question on the financial aspect of trying to elect somebody from among the diaspora? Some 70 million people now claim to be Irish. That would be a problem.

Mr. Mark Bassett

On the point about EU law, the European treaties guarantee free movement of workers, for example. Someone who has exercised the right to free movement and moved to another member state no longer has the ability to vote in Irish elections because of residency rules. His or her right to vote is not recognised in the other member state. There is at least a possibility of an action being taken against Ireland on the grounds that there has been an unjustifiable restriction and that the exercising of free movement rights has been made less attractive because of our restrictive national law. I would much prefer to see a change in the law for the right reasons because it is consistent with the Constitution and a good idea, rather than a change in reaction to the stigma associated, perhaps, with the decision of a court - it could be in Luxembourg or the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg - to the effect that Ireland was out of step with its contemporaries. We have seen that Ireland is almost uniquely restrictive in its adherence to limitations of residency. There is the potential for a successful challenge in the European Court of Justice by somebody who has suffered detriment in exercising free movement rights.

With regard to the diaspora, the figure of 70 million is often mentioned. I imagine that quite a limited number of them would ever wish to exercise the right to vote in an election here. Very many of them will not be entitled to Irish citizenship but will instead just have an ancestral fondness for this island.

As the options paper sets out, we can expect a high level of participation in Northern Ireland. All of the evidence from non-resident citizens in other contexts suggests there is very often a limited take-up. I advocate to the committee that the idea of the swamping of an election is not one that should put off the consideration of a constitutional amendment.

On the European law side, why would a person not take a case against Germany where he or she has decided to live and work for refusing the rights of a citizen, given his or her free movement rights, rather than harking back to Ireland from where he or she has left?

Mr. Mark Bassett

Typically, voting rights are attached to citizenship. As an Irish citizen, someone would be expected to participate at some level in the member state of his or her nationality. Where he or she has exercised his or her free movement rights, he or she is excluded from voting in elections to the national Legislature. He or she has a vote in European Parliament elections. There is at least the possibility of a challenge to the rule on the basis that it is making the exercising of these rights less attractive.

Professor Colin Harvey

To follow on and agree with what Mr. Bassett said, what we are suggesting is to in a sense pre-empt some of those challenges. Increasingly difficult questions will be asked about the Irish system, which looks like a blanket exclusion of citizens who are resident outside the State. In a sense, there is a direction of travel towards doing this and we want to pre-empt those challenges being questioned on human rights and European law grounds.

The swamping point is interesting. If we look at the evidence we see that there are a number of steps to the process. There is eligibility, registration and then actual voting. If we look at comparative practice around the world and as those steps go forward, some of the scare stories and concerns that are often spread about it do not transpire in practice. In fact, the actual turnout can be disappointing and much lower than expected. That is not a great reason for not proceeding with it because we want people to participate. If we look at the history of voting rights, people always said at the time that if voting or democratic inclusion was extended it would have consequences or costs but in terms of the principle of equal citizenship they are not great arguments for not taking that path.

The second point I would like to raise is that if we are thinking about the democratic spirit, it is not a great argument to start that discussion around profound distrust as to how voters might actually vote because there is then the work of persuading people. I would not want to start an argument about democratic inclusion from the premise that we do not trust how voters might vote. It does not sound very democratic to me.

It depends on whether one looks at it from an academic point of view or as a minor or major politician contesting any election. I am all for democracy, as is everybody, but I could not help but think of the phrase "Bono for President" because they would all be out with the diaspora looking for the vote.

On the issue of challenging the court on the right to vote, I understand where the witnesses are coming from but surely if somebody lives in a particular jurisdiction, they have the right to vote in other countries, whether in a local election or various other ones depending on the country one lives in, and not just because of the citizenship. In my view one cannot have dual opportunities. That is happening in this country where people move North and South for elections, and they are registered in both locations. That is illegal. The Chairman is smiling at me but that is the reality, and it works in terms of North and South and South and North. Surely we would have to have some sort of joined-up thinking within the European Union that if we allow members of a diaspora to vote, and they are living in, say, Germany, they cannot exercise the right in the two locations. They cannot say they have two masters.

Professor Colin Harvey

First, the concern around that point is that people end up being disenfranchised both ways. They are not able to vote where they want. Second, we would like to underline that this is increasingly common practice. We have seen the French presidential elections being facilitated in Ireland and in Britain. It is being done. It can be made operational and done.

This is a clear recommendation from the Constitutional Convention from 2013. We are a number of years on from that so would it be fair to say that the debate on principle has been won but that many of the questions now are to do with making the principle operational? We would like to underline that we believe the options paper that was published in March is a useful contribution to that debate. It contains useful information on issues such as costing, for example, and comparative practice. We are a fair way on from 2013. We are in 2017, and the interest now is about when a referendum will be held.

From my perspective, although we are talking about voting rights today, it is part of a bigger picture emerging from that Constitutional Convention. In the human rights area I work on issues that arise around social and economic rights too. This has been recommended. We are a long way on from 2013. The Government has published an options paper. Warm words have been spoken about it but we are waiting now for a date for when the referendum might be held. That is our sense of it.

I thank Professor Harvey.

Apologies for having to step out earlier. I take the opportunity to thank the witnesses. It is good to have people talking about voting rights in this building other than me or Senator Billy Lawless. Bringing more voices to the concert is important and positive.

The witnesses made the argument coherently and passionately as to why the issue is symbolically important but also constitutionally and politically important. Senator Craughwell rightly acknowledged that this is a political issue. I have made the point during a number of debates in the Seanad on this matter that when the Good Friday Agreement afforded us Irish citizenship, it was not partial or conditional. It certainly was not second class. There needs to be a political, societal and civic discussion about what Irish citizenship means for those of us who live in the North but also for the emigrant community.

I wanted to raise a couple of issues but I am sure the witnesses have covered them in terms of Senator Craughwell's contribution about who would qualify for voting rights. That was a very useful part of Senator Lawless's recent event in Buswells Hotel where he held a diaspora-focused discussion.

I want to ask a brief question on the witnesses' opinion. I appreciate that I am throwing this at them but we were given a briefing, as is the practice, from the Department in advance of the meeting. I do not believe I am breaking confidentiality but under one of the headings of the Good Friday Agreement it states that it is worth nothing that while both the Irish and British Governments confirm through the Good Friday Agreement the right of the people of Northern Ireland to hold both Irish and British citizenship, it is the respective legislation in each jurisdiction that governs entitlement to citizenship. I am not sure what that means in this instance in terms of how it impacts on us because the options paper and the position of the Government, and the position outlined in the Good Friday Agreement, is fairly clear on the rights of citizens.

There is a political consensus in these Houses that we have won the argument on the need for voting rights to be extended to the diaspora and to citizens in the North. However, I share the witnesses' concerns about the mechanics of when that will happen. While appreciating that is not a simple task, I have always made the case that there is an existent register, electoral office, electoral commission, polling stations and so on in the North. I appreciate that when we are dealing with a community overseas it is a much more logistically complex arrangement, but I do not believe it is one that cannot be overcome. I do not accept the need to hold a referendum, although one would be reasonably confident going into that referendum that the make-up in these Houses would reflect society. I would share the witnesses' concern about wanting to have that date and clear statement of intent from the Government. It has been a very worthwhile discussion.

I have some questions. The part that is relevant to us as the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is voting rights in the North, but are the witnesses also advocating for voting rights for people in, say, America and other countries where Irish citizens reside? Is it just for presidential elections or something that should be extended to a general election also?

I am not sure if Deputy Breathnach's question on postal votes and proxy votes here was answered. It can be very difficult for people here to get out to vote, particularly if they are elderly. The rules are so strict, the reality is that many of those people lose their votes and hence they are disenfranchised. Have the witnesses done any work on that or what is their opinion?

Mr. Mark Bassett

The options paper sets out a number of options for the scope of any extended franchise. The one we would be most in favour of is the simplest and most consistent with the recommendations of the convention, which is that all citizens, regardless of their place of residence, should contribute the election of the President. That is a first modest step. The Constitutional Convention did not address further voting rights, but that is something one would hope would follow afterwards.

In regard to postal voting, it is correct that it is a very restrictive system. Proxy voting and postal voting seem to be motivated by a desire to protect the integrity of the election. If postal voting is to be employed for citizens outside of the State, it would be a good thing if there was a greater extension of postal voting within the State. Other states make much greater use of postal voting. It is not seen to undermine the integrity of those elections.

My principal concern with Irish electoral law does not centre on fraud. Rather, it is exclusion. A very large number of Irish citizens outside the State cannot contribute. That has to be addressed through the greater availability of postal voting or some measure of posting in person in locations outside the State.

Professor Colin Harvey

I referred to an issue a Senator raised regarding the Good Friday Agreement. We need to have a conversation about the language of the Agreement, and whether all of the things we think have been legally tied down in the Good Friday Agreement are in fact legally tied down in both jurisdictions. That is not clear to me. In the past couple of years we have found that things we had perhaps taken for granted in terms of mutual respect and other things are not legally tied down within the UK system in the way we might have thought. That is a matter of urgency that needs to be addressed, whatever discussions are ongoing.

We are very focused, in being respectful of the Constitutional Convention, on the fact that this is about presidential elections. In a sense, we are honouring the convention by taking forward the recommendation and concentrating on it. We are simply pointing out that Ireland would be in step with what is a clear and international trend. We have seen it happening and it can be done.

There is another conversation for a separate day. We want to advance this issue. There is a conversation to be had about voting rights in Ireland in general, including who does or does not get to vote, and who is excluded or included. There has been a discussion around the electoral commission and other things. This is one part of a bigger conversation. We want to focus on advancing this matter now. There is a bigger conversation to be had about voting rights in Ireland.

I thank the witnesses for the presentation. I agree that it is a reasonable constitutional step to take. I have two brothers who live in San Francisco, and they may as well be living in Ireland because they are involved with the GAA and listen to Irish radio stations. They would love to be able to vote. I worked with a man from Boston who was able to vote in the American presidential election. A change in the voting laws would be most welcome.

In terms of the work the witnesses have done, have they found any negative impact or effects? If so, what would they be? Do they have any question marks about anything? What are they concerned about?

Professor Harvey hit on something, namely the Good Friday Agreement and what exactly it encompasses in legal terms. It strikes me as extremely surprising that somebody living on the island can hold an Irish passport but not have a vote. That is something that perhaps needs pretty rapid investigation. Without extending the vote to the wider diaspora, if a person on the island of Ireland carries a passport he or she should be entitled to vote in at least a presidential election, irrespective of the issue of distrust that was raised. We cannot second-guess what an electorate would do or how any citizen in the North of Ireland, irrespective of his or her colour, would vote. Nothing is certain in that regard.

I am inclined to agree with my colleague. I am not sure a referendum would be needed to extend the vote across the Border. I am not legally qualified, unlike Mr. Basset. Perhaps he would have a view on that.

Mr. Mark Bassett

The right to vote in a presidential election is currently restricted to citizens resident in the State, on the basis of a provision of Article 12 of the Constitution. That would have to change. The key point of any constitutional referendum would be to extend the franchise to all citizens, not just those resident in the State, registered as Dáil electors. It would involve breaking the connection between voting in a presidential election and being registered as a Dáil elector. As well as a constitutional amendment, legislative changes would be required to various provisions of the Electoral Acts, which is set out in some detail in the options paper. There would have to be a constitutional referendum.

I am seeking clarification. I have no difficulty in extending the franchise for presidential elections. However, we still have not grasped the issue of directly elected mayors in local authorities from a 26-county perspective because personality politics are involved. I do not mind saying we could end up with somebody who has a very high profile, such as Bono, being elected. That could happen if we extended voting rights to a large number of people who ultimately might vote and high-quality personalities were looking to be elected to positions for reasons to do with their profile.

It was mentioned that the Presidency was not an overly important job. I certainly view it as a very important job. I said that one could not be a master to two individuals. We all talk about one man, one vote. The witnesses have expertise in this area. We have moved into a discussion involving other elections, but perhaps we should have stuck with the presidential election.

A French citizen who is entitled to vote in French elections may have the opportunity to vote in various other countries, such as Belgium. How can we ensure that such a person, who has voted in a French election, does not then vote in a Belgian election? Such a person is exercising a franchise I do not believe he or she should be entitled to.

For example, I do not believe I have an entitlement to vote in England because I am not a resident there. We need to tease out the issues. Every citizen is entitled to one vote in one particular element of the election. Verification is a major issue.

That is why I said people were constantly crossing the Border in both directions and voting and exercising two franchises, which is illegal. Will Professor Harvey comment on this?

Professor Colin Harvey

In our paper we are very clear that we regard the Presidency as a fundamentally important office. It is symbolically and practically important and we will not say anything to the contrary. In a sense, we are involved in thinking and arguing about voting rights because of the importance of the Presidency.

The Senator has asked a question about the things that have been identified as issues. When it moves to operationalising and making it real in practice, issues emerge in trying to ensure it happens at the level of practicality and organisation. This is widely and successfully done in many states around the world with regard to both registration and making it happen. We have seen it happen recently on this island in the case of the election in France. It has, therefore, been happening and can happen. Many of the questions being raised arise in any electoral process, including ensuring we verify what is happening in order that everything is done appropriately and properly. It is an area of practicality that will need to be looked at, but there are ways of dealing with it. In the context of the presidential election, it will be a democratic experiment for Ireland. One thing that can be done is keeping it under review to see what lessons have been learned and refine it over time. We should not rule out a process of democratic inclusion because it may cause difficulties. Otherwise, we might not have elections. There are always issues, but there are processes in place to try to ensure the integrity of the process. There are ways that are better than others for ensuring that happens. It should not present us with an obstacle in taking forward a fundamental issue of principle on which the Constitutional Convention is very clear.

Mr. Mark Bassett

I will comment on Senator Frances Black's question about drawbacks. Some of the difficulties include the cost and practicalities. I am not aware of any state that thought it was a good idea in principle that thought it was beyond its capability to accommodate non-resident citizens voting. There are some difficulties, but it seems to us that they have always been manageable.

I thank the delegates for their contributions on what is a very interesting topic. I do not know if we can give a date for the referendum, but as the next presidential election is due to be held in November 2018, I imagine it would have to be held before then. It will probably be held early next year, if we are to speculate. I thank the delegates for coming. Their presentations were excellent and very interesting.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.15 p.m. until 2.15 p.m. on Thursday, 1 June 2017.