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    Irish could lose right to vote in Britain

    By Noreen Bowden | March 31, 2008

    New Irish immigrants to Britain may no longer be entitled to vote in British elections if reform proposals contained in the Goldsmith Report are approved. News reports say, however, that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is likely to reject the controversial proposal.

    Peter Goldsmith, a former Attorney General, made the suggestion as part of a wide-ranging study on enhancing British citizenship. He says that Irish and Commonwealth citizens should be denied the vote in Westminster elections, but still be allowed to vote in local, European and devolved elections. He says,

    there are two particular issues in relation to Irish citizens. First, the Good Friday Agreement confirms the right of the people of Northern Ireland to take either British or Irish citizenship or both. Anyone who exercises their right under the Agreement to identify themselves as Irish and to take up Irish citizenship should not lose their right to vote in Westminster elections as a result of any change made to restrict voting rights to UK citizens. Hence it would be necessary to distinguish this group of Irish citizens from others. I have not been able to examine the different practical means of doing this but this would have to be part of further consideration of the issue. My proposal is dependent on finding a satisfactory means of distinguishing the two categories in a way that did not affect the position of those exercising rights under the Good Friday Agreement.

    Secondly, Ireland is of course a member state of the EU as well. This means that Irish citizens would retain the voting rights that other citizens of EU member states have in the UK. Hence the extent of the change that I am proposing as it relates to Irish citizens is to restrict their right to vote in Westminster elections, while retaining their right to vote in European, local and devolved elections. Also, as I have said, the restriction of the right to vote in Westminster elections should be phased, so that no person who is already resident or registered to vote in the UK loses the right to vote.

    The proposal has been strongly criticised by groups working with the Irish in Britain.  Fr Gerry McFlynn of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas said:

    If one is serious about acknowledging the special relationship and historic ties between Britain and Ireland, what is needed is a proposal which ensures that Irish people living in the UK, as well as both parts of Ireland, are entitled to vote in all elections, including the Westminster elections.The oath of allegiance to the Queen has been described as an empty gesture and it will not be popular with the nationalist population in Northern Ireland.

    It is hard to see what purpose can be served by visiting such procedures on sections of the population other than to create problems for the future.

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