Dickson urges caution on Irish Presidential voting rights proposal which may alter the Good Friday Agreement constitutional settlement

Alliance Chief Whip Stewart Dickson MLA has urged caution on a proposal at the Irish Constitutional Convention which suggested that residents in Northern Ireland and Irish Nationals overseas could be given voting rights in future Irish Presidential elections. He expressed particular concern that any action would alter the constitutional balance of the Good Friday Agreement.

Stewart is the Alliance Party’s representative at the Constitutional Convention, and participates on issues relevant to the island as a whole or to Northern Ireland.

Stewart Dickson MLA said: “The Good Friday Agreement was a carefully constructed constitutional settlement. It recognised that people in Northern Ireland could classify themselves as either British or Irish. However, the Agreement did not create joint authority or sovereignty. Instead it stresses Northern Ireland as part of the UK, until or unless the people decide otherwise.

“At the time of the Agreement, this right to Irish nationality was not extended to the right to vote in elections within the state of the Republic of Ireland, whether for the President or for member of the Dail. That should have been the obvious opportunity for this step, and to do so in a transparent and agreed way.

“While it is a matter for the Irish Government and the Oireachtas to determine the franchise for Irish elections, to unilaterally extend the franchise to residents of Northern Ireland would constitute a significant shift in the balance of the Agreement.

“Furthermore, it is a well-established liberal principle internationally that the right to vote should be linked to citizenship and residency rather than nationality or identity. It should be for those whose lives will be affected by the decisions of the state to take part in elections. A logical extension of this principle is for states to grant the right to vote to those formal residents who are temporarily overseas but retain links to their home state.

“I would also be concerned that the Irish President could be seen as the Head of State for Nationalists and the Queen for Unionists in Northern Ireland. I do not think this type of division would be helpful for community relations.

“Alliance will continue to keep an open mind on this issue, but any changes to the fundamental balance of the Good Friday Agreement should proceed on the basis of revised agreements between the parties and governments.

“There are other steps that can be taken to further develop North-South relations in line with the Good Friday Agreement.”


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