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Seanad Eireann (Senate of Ireland) debate, Wednesday 6 March 2019. European Parliament Election (Amendment) Bill 2019: Committee Stage (resumed) and Remaining Stages

Author(s):
Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy John Phelan
Publication year:
2019
Publication month:
March
Publication day:
6
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins proposed an amendment to the Electoral Act 1992, to extend the right to vote in European elections beyond Irish citizens and European member state citizens to ‘such other persons in the State as may be determined by law’. This attempt to facilitate British citizens voting in European elections post-Brexit was not supported by the government, citing the Lisbon treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the legal advice which was been received (see quote below). The amendment was put and declared lost. Quote: "I regret to say I will not be able to support the amendment. The amendment is superfluous in its wording, providing for "such other persons in the State as may be determined by law". Perhaps the Senator wishes to specifically identify British citizens. In regard to voting rights, the Houses are not restricted in prescribing categories of people by law and neither is the Minister. In that sense the amendment is not necessarily required. Extensive legal advice was sought on the voting rights of British citizens resident in Ireland in a post-Brexit scenario. The initial opinion advised that European case law prior to the coming into force of the Lisbon treaty in 2009, which we discussed already, suggested that member states had a degree of discretion in extending voting rights to third country citizens resident in their territories, subject to compliance with certain limits. We spoke about close links. The Senator and I referred to the Spain v. the UK case, which concerned Gibraltar. Several other judgments have taken a similar line. The position changed utterly with the coming into effect of the Lisbon treaty. Article 14.2 of the Treaty on European Union states, "The European Parliament shall be composed of representatives of the Union's citizens", and "Representation of citizens shall be degressively proportional". The corresponding article in the preceding treaty, the treaty establishing the European Economic Community, provided that the European Parliament, "shall consist of representatives of the peoples of the States brought together in the Community". There has been a change. Off the top of my head I do not know of judgments of the European Court of Justice on that particular aspect of the treaty since the coming into effect of the Lisbon treaty. Moreover, Article 9 of the Treaty on European Union provides: Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship. Article 10 states, "Citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament". Article 39.1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union provides, "Every citizen of the Union has the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament in the Member State in which he or she resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that State." In the absence of post-2009 case law which directly addresses this issue, the initial legal advice concluded that it may be possible for member states to allow citizens of third countries resident in their territories to vote in EU elections. A more prudent view is that the 2009 amendment to Article 14.2 of the Treaty on European Union and the prospective 2018 amendments to Article 1.1 of the Act of 1976 separately and together create a minimum requirement of Union citizenship to vote and stand in elections to the European Parliament. Further legal advice was sought, which concluded definitively that any proposal to enfranchise British citizens resident in Ireland after the withdrawal of the UK from the Union for the purposes of the European elections would be inconsistent with the law of the European Union."