Postal voting is provided for in electoral law in respect of a number of categories of electors, including: -
- Irish diplomats serving abroad and their spouses/civil partners,
- whole-time members of the Defence Forces,
- members of An Garda Síochána,
- electors living at home who are unable to vote because of a physical illness or a physical disability,
- certain election staff employed at the poll outside the constituency where they reside,
- full-time students registered at their home who are living elsewhere while attending an educational institution in the State,
- prisoners, and
- electors whose occupation, service or employment makes it likely that they will be unable to vote in person at their local polling station on polling day.
Any person who has to travel, either within or outside of the State, for work on polling day and, as a result, is unable to attend at the local polling station is eligible to apply to his or her registration authority for inclusion in the supplement to the postal voters list to avail of a postal vote for the election or referendum concerned.
Subject to a limited number of exceptions, Irish citizens resident outside the State do not have the right to vote at elections or at referendums held in the State. To provide for such an extended franchise at Dáil and at presidential elections as well as at referendums would require Constitutional amendment.
In this context and in response to the evolving needs of Irish society and its relationship with the wider Irish diaspora, the Government agreed in March 2017 to accept in principle the main recommendation in the Fifth Report of the Convention on the Constitution that Irish citizens resident outside the State, including citizens resident in Northern Ireland, should have the right to vote at presidential elections and that a referendum would be held to seek to amend the Constitution to give effect to this. The extension of voting rights at other elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State is not under consideration at this point in time.
In order to inform public discourse on this significant policy change, an Options Paper was published on 22 March 2017 by my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Options Paper sets out a broad range of options for the extension of voting rights, international comparisons, the estimated costs involved and related resource issues as well as many of the legal, policy, administrative and logistical challenges associated with extending voting rights to Irish citizens resident outside the State. These options provided a basis for the discussion on voting rights which took place at the Global Irish Civic Forum in Dublin on 5 May 2017.
More recently, the Government agreed on 5 February 2019 that, subject to the timely passage of a Constitution Amendment Bill by each House of the Oireachtas, the proposed referendum on extending the franchise at presidential elections would be held in October 2019. The Government also agreed that the preferred option to be put to the people in a referendum is for an extension of the franchise to all citizens resident outside the State, including citizens resident in Northern Ireland. This will inform the development of a Constitution Amendment Bill in good time for the holding of a referendum in October 2019.