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Voting in General Elections and Referendums

Who is entitled to vote in a General Election or Referendum in Ireland?

Under Section 7(1) of the Electoral Act 1992, every person is entitled to be registered as a presidential elector in a constituency if they:

  • are a citizen of Ireland,
  • have reached the age of 18 years, and
  • are ordinarily resident in that constituency.

Only presidential electors may vote for the election of a person to the office of President of Ireland and at referendums to amend the Constitution.

Section 8 of the Electoral Act 1992 provides that every person is entitled to be registered as a Dáil elector in a constituency if they:

  • are a citizen of Ireland, or
  • are a citizen of the UK: and
  • have reached the age of 18 years, and
  • are ordinarily resident in that constituency.

Only Dáil electors may vote at a general election or at a Dáil bye-election.

What about Irish citizens living abroad?

Subject to a limited number of exceptions (see exceptions below), Irish citizens resident outside the State do not have the right to vote at general elections or referendums.

I am living abroad but I think I still might be on the voters register – can I vote?

Under the Electoral Acts, the preparation of the register of electors is a matter for each registration authority (i.e. local authority).  It is their duty to ensure, insofar as possible and with the cooperation of the public, the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the register for their area.

A new register of electors comes into effect for each registration area on 15 February in each year.  People who are not ordinarily resident in a constituency should not be included in the register.  Inclusion on the register does not mean that the person named is entitled to vote at a general election or referendum if the conditions for registration no longer apply.  In these circumstances, it is an offence to vote when you are registered but are not, or are no longer, entitled to be registered.

I am just living abroad temporarily for a few months and I will be moving back to Ireland and my name is on the register of electors – can I vote?

On the residency requirement, a person who is temporarily absent from home but who intends to resume residence within 18 months after giving it up (i.e. of having left the address in Ireland at which that person is registered to vote) is not deemed to have given up ordinary residence.  There is no formal requirement to contact the registration authority in advance of leaving to inform them of that person’s intention to resume residence within 18 months at the address at which that person is registered.  However, each registration authority performs checks on the accuracy of the register of electors.  Should this arise in an individual case, a written statement by a person that they intend to resume residence within 18 months after giving it up shall, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, be accepted as a correct statement.

I thought there was an announcement last year that the right to vote was going to be extended to citizens abroad?

On 7 March 2017 the Government approved, in principle, the holding of a referendum to amend the Constitution to extend the franchise at presidential elections to include Irish citizens resident outside the State, including citizens resident in Northern Ireland.  This was announced by the Taoiseach in Philadelphia in March 2017.

An Options Paper, jointly prepared by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to inform public debate around this significant policy change was published on 22 March 2017.  The Options Paper sets out the range of options available to give effect to the recommendation in the Fifth Report of the Convention on the Constitution.

The Government announced on 26 September 2017 that it has agreed indicative dates for the holding of referendums in 2018 and 2019, subject to the timely passage of Constitution Amendment Bills by each House of the Oireachtas.  Included in the list is the proposed referendum on extending the franchise at presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State.  It is intended that this referendum will be held on the date of the local and European elections in May 2019.

What are the exceptions?

Defence Forces personnel and civil servants (and their spouses / civil partners) who are members of missions and who, for the time being, are serving outside the State because of the requirements of their duties are deemed to be ordinarily resident in the constituency in which they would normally be resident but for their duties.  The names of these people are entered in the postal voters list and they vote by post from abroad.