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Northern electorate unlikely to get vote

(William Scholes, Irish News)

Nationalist and republican demands for people living in Northern Ireland to be given the right to vote in presidential elections will not be met "for some time", the Irish government said last night.

On Tuesday, Omagh District Council became the latest council to pass a motion calling for the electorate in the north to be given a say in the outcome of future contests for the presidency in the Republic.

Sinn Féin West Tyrone assembly member and Omagh councillor Barry McElduff said the adoption of "such a measure would be a great confidence boost to people in the north".

The Sinn Féin motion – "This council calls for voting rights in all future presidential elections to be extended to citizens in the six counties" – was passed by 11 votes to five.

DUP West Tyrone assembly member and Omagh councillor Tom Buchanan opposed the motion and said it was "an insult to the people of Northern Ireland".

An Irish government spokeswoman said there was unlikely to be any progress on the issue "for some time".

An Oireachtas committee charged with examining constitutional reform suggested that "the case could be made for people in the north to vote in presidential elections", she said.

"It made a report but there has been no movement," she said.

Belfast City Council and Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council are among the other local authorities dominated by Sinn Féin and SDLP representatives which have issued similar calls.

Mr McElduff, who is Sinn Féin's all Ireland integration and cross-border development spokesman, said the council would be writing to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, asking him to introduce legislation to allow voters in the north to vote in the Republic.

"The amended Article 2 of the Irish constitution, which was ratified by the Good Friday Agreement, states that it is the 'entitlement and birthright of every person born on the island of Ireland... to be part of the Irish nation'," he said.

"There is clearly strong feeling in the Omagh and the wider Tyrone area that people should be given the right to vote for the president.

"For example, after Tyrone won the Sam Maguire at Croke Park thousands of people turned out across the county.

"As well as playing our sport in Dublin we want to practise our politics there."

Mr McElduff called on the Irish government to act on the report, and said: "Northern representation in the Oireachtas is something that should also be legislated for."

DUP representative Mr Buchanan said one of the reasons unionists opposed the motion at Omagh District Council was because "we are part of a different country".

"We are not part of the Irish state and cannot seek the right to vote in that country," he said.

"You can't just turn round and ask another country to have a vote which you can take part in.

"It's an insult to the people in Northern Ireland to ask them to have the vote in the Republic of Ireland.

"There's not a chance of Sinn Féin getting their way on this. Bertie Ahern has made it clear that he does not want them in government."

January 10, 2004

This article appeared first in the January 8, 2004 edition of the Irish News.

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