An Irish student has brought a motion to the High Court arguing that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland ought to be allowed vote in the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment on the 25th May.
Northern Irish citizens are able to avail of British citizenship, Irish citizenship or both. However, those who gain Irish citizenship in Northern Ireland are, under the current interpretation of the Irish constitution and the Belfast Agreement, prohibited from voting in either Irish presidential elections or referenda.
Róisín Morelli, a student of Queen's University Belfast, has launched an appeal to the High Court arguing that this shouldn't be the case and demanding Irish citizens in Northern Ireland be enfranchised in Irish elections. She is arguing that as Irish citizens they ought have a constitutional right to vote vote in such referenda. Her barrister, Conan Fegan, is also arguing that in addition to this, any changes to the Eighth Amendment involves cross-border health issues and entitlements as dealt with in the Belfast Agreement and thus Irish citizens in the North ought be entitled to vote.
The case that she has brought before the High Court is against the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Attorney General.
Mr. Justice Seamus Noonan, aware of the extreme time sensitivity of the issue, with less than six weeks until the vote, set this Friday as a date for hearing Ms. Morelli's application. Yesterday, he described it as 'close to impossible' that such a drastic change to the voting system in Ireland could be implemented within such a timeframe, given that even were it to get beyond the High Court it would presumably have to be ratified by the Supreme Court.
However he conceded to the point raised by Ms. Morelli and her barrister, Mr. Fegan, that were the issue not resolved before the date of the vote it would inherently have implications for the validity of the vote, though he stated that the court had no control over that issue. A vote which did not involve the electorate of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland would be perfectly legitimate, under a current understanding of the constitution, as such it is not the preserve of the court to consider against the possibility of any change bearing an impact on the referendum's result.
The legal representative for the State departments involved, Conor Power SC, said that electoral acts and voting rights should not be changed 'on the hoof'. He added that any changes to the situation regarding Irish citizens in Northern Ireland attempting to vote in Irish elections would necessarily involve an overturning, or at least massive reassessment of residency requirements, which necessitate Irish citizens looking to vote to be residents - or at least registered to an address - within the Republic of Ireland.
H/T: The Irish Times