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.
In order to inform public discourse on this significant policy change, an Options Paper was jointly 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.
The Government agreed on 5 February 2019 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. More recently, at the meeting of the Government on 11 June 2019, the general scheme of a Constitution Amendment Bill was approved for drafting and for circulation to the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, for pre-legislative consideration.
My Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are now working in close consultation with the Office of the Attorney General on the preparation of the necessary Constitution Amendment Bill. It is intended that the Bill will be published in good time to allow for the holding of a referendum in October/November 2019, subject to pre-legislative scrutiny and the passage of the Bill by both Houses of the Oireachtas.