European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2019: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

SECTION 2
Question, "That section 2 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Sections 3 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 7

Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, not moved.
Section 7 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 9, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 9 of Electoral Act 1992

8. Section 9 of the Electoral Act 1992 is amended by the insertion of the following new paragraph:

“(c) such other persons in the State as may be determined by law.”.”.

This amendment would seek to amend the Electoral Act 1992, which was previously cited by the Minister. That Act, which currently extends the right to vote in European elections to Irish citizens and to European member state citizens, would also be amended to also extend this right to "such other persons in the State as may be determined by law". This language brings that Act into line with Article 16.1.2° of the Constitution. This provision was an amendment to the Constitution making provision for the voting rights of "such other persons in the state as may be determined by law". My amendment would bring those two provisions into line with each other. Article 16.1.2° was brought in by Fine Gael to ensure that UK citizens would have voting rights.

I ask the Minister of State to consider supporting this amendment. It is a very small amendment that does not seek to determine what the law might be. However, if there was a preponderance of European Court of Justice rulings, or if the Minister wished to respond through legislation or by a statutory order, which is also law, the amendment would allow for action to ensure and vindicate the rights of persons. If legal findings were made to the effect that UK citizens resident in the State should have voting rights, or if the Minister wished to make a statutory order and discovered that he was able to do so, this would allow that to happen in the most efficacious way possible. I ask the Minister of State to support it.

I regret to say I will not be able to support the amendment. The amendment is superfluous in its wording, providing for "such other persons in the State as may be determined by law". Perhaps the Senator wishes to specifically identify British citizens. In regard to voting rights, the Houses are not restricted in prescribing categories of people by law and neither is the Minister. In that sense the amendment is not necessarily required. Extensive legal advice was sought on the voting rights of British citizens resident in Ireland in a post-Brexit scenario. The initial opinion advised that European case law prior to the coming into force of the Lisbon treaty in 2009, which we discussed already, suggested that member states had a degree of discretion in extending voting rights to third country citizens resident in their territories, subject to compliance with certain limits. We spoke about close links. The Senator and I referred to the Spain v. the UK case, which concerned Gibraltar. Several other judgments have taken a similar line.

The position changed utterly with the coming into effect of the Lisbon treaty. Article 14.2 of the Treaty on European Union states, "The European Parliament shall be composed of representatives of the Union's citizens", and "Representation of citizens shall be degressively proportional". The corresponding article in the preceding treaty, the treaty establishing the European Economic Community, provided that the European Parliament, "shall consist of representatives of the peoples of the States brought together in the Community". There has been a change. Off the top of my head I do not know of judgments of the European Court of Justice on that particular aspect of the treaty since the coming into effect of the Lisbon treaty.

Moreover, Article 9 of the Treaty on European Union provides:

Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.

Article 10 states, "Citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament". Article 39.1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union provides, "Every citizen of the Union has the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament in the Member State in which he or she resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that State."

In the absence of post-2009 case law which directly addresses this issue, the initial legal advice concluded that it may be possible for member states to allow citizens of third countries resident in their territories to vote in EU elections.

A more prudent view is that the 2009 amendment to Article 14.2 of the Treaty on European Union and the prospective 2018 amendments to Article 1.1 of the Act of 1976 separately and together create a minimum requirement of Union citizenship to vote and stand in elections to the European Parliament. Further legal advice was sought, which concluded definitively that any proposal to enfranchise British citizens resident in Ireland after the withdrawal of the UK from the Union for the purposes of the European elections would be inconsistent with the law of the European Union.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 8 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

Amendment Nos. 7 and 8 have been ruled out of order as they are not relevant to the provisions of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 10, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

"Report and review of European electoral register

9. (1) The Minister shall, within 30 months of the passing of this Act, initiate a report and review on the potential extension of the European electoral register to include Non-EU citizens resident in the State.

(2) Within 8 months of the initiation of such a report and review, the Minister shall lay the report and review before both Houses of the Oireachtas.".

I will speak very briefly because I am under time pressure, as are others. We had an opportunity to discuss this earlier. I thank the Minister of State for engaging on the issues. I regret that we were unable to come to agreement. This amendment simply asks that there be a report and review. It is asking the Government to look further into these issues. The Minister of State may not be able to accommodate the proposals I have put forward but I ask that he consider accepting the need for a report and review on this. I hope he will accept the amendment, which would give him space in the context of a review of the extension of the electoral register to reflect on various issues. If he is unable to accept the amendment, I hope that he might indicate that he intends to investigate these issues further and consult others across the House, particularly if we enter a period in which we may have a large cohort - 50,000, as mentioned by him - of UK citizens. These are adults living and working in Ireland who will be very much affected by EU laws and who feel disenfranchised from that process. This is why we need to examine all angles. I accept that the Minister of State has sought advice at this point. The amendment is intended to ensure that he will continue to engage and seek solutions.

I am not in a position to accept this amendment but I accept the point made by the Senator. We are carrying out an extensive exercise on reform of the register in general. Later this year, we will have a referendum on the issue of presidential election voting rights for citizens overseas. The report of the Seanad reform group recommends the possibility of extending the franchise to people living overseas. A lot of work is being, and will be, done over the next period on voting rights for different categories of people, be they Irish citizens or not. While I cannot accept the amendment, we will implement its spirit. I have no problem accepting the idea of a more thorough analysis of the voting entitlements of different categories of residents in the State and Irish citizens overseas.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 9 agreed to.
TITLE

Amendment No. 10 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 10 not moved.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 7 March 2019.