Ireland is one of five European countries to get a slap on the wrist from the EU this week for failing to allow emigrants to vote.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding accused Ireland of creating “a second-class group of citizens” by not extending voting rights to Irish expats abroad. The UK, Denmark, Malta and Cyprus were similarly criticised for voting regimes which prevent citizens from taking part in national or regional elections as soon as they leave their home country.
Speaking at press conference on voting rights, Commissioner Reding said citizens should not be denied voting rights simply because they had exercised their right to freedom of movement in the EU. She said such disenfranchisement was “at odds” with the founding premise of EU citizenship, which was meant to give people more rights, not fewer.
She invited Ireland and other countries to change their voting regime to ensure that their nationals living abroad could retain their right to vote.
“We're calling on Ireland to show greater flexibility,” said Commissioner Reding. She suggested that expats could be made to demonstrate a continuing interest in the political life of their country by applying to remain on the electoral register.
Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins applauded her comments and urged the government to “wake up” and accept the EU verdict that Irish people's voting rights fall short of what is expected in a democracy.
“Many Irish people who live abroad for work listen to local radio, read Irish papers and intend coming home to live. It doesn't make sense to cut off their voting rights after 18 months; they should have a say in the running of the country,” said Mr Higgins.