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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

FactFind: What are the laws around asylum seekers being able to vote in Irish elections?

Irish and British citizens can vote in General Elections, but all residents can vote in local elections.

RECENT POSTS ON Irish social media have spread misleading information about who is allowed to vote in Irish elections.

One such post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, was sent on August 24 from the verified account of Ian Miles Cheong, a Malaysian commentator with a long history of spreading misinformation.

“You don’t need to be Irish to vote in Ireland. Anyone can literally travel there, and claim to be an asylum seeker, to cast a vote. That’s hilarious,” he wrote to his 740,000 followers.

The message was shared the same day that Cheong responded to a post about a surge in the number of refugees coming to Ireland after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Cheong disapproved of Ireland allowing immigration.

Twitter’s Community Notes added a disclaimer to the message, saying: “In Irish elections, non-EU citizens can only vote for local authorities who oversee public services within the area. Non-EU citizens are unable to vote in general, European or presidential elections and referendums.”

Community Notes is a scheme where contributors make notes on misleading tweets that, if enough users can rate as “helpful”, become shown alongside the original tweet.

However, the disclaimer did not prevent the original message from being re-shared by dozens of Irish accounts or from being viewed almost 400,000 times.

That same day, conservative news outlet Gript posted a video which claimed that guides issued by the Government about voting in Ireland, which were produced in multiple languages including Ukrainian, were a “self-serving power-grab”.

“Last week it was revealed that the Irish State is issuing guides in foreign languages, including in Ukrainian, to inform asylum seekers how to vote in the local elections next year,” a commentator said in the video.

The video also theorised that the Government is allowing people from “all over the world who don’t even speak English, let alone Irish, to vote in their droves by the tens of thousand”, because the asylum seekers will be so grateful they’ll vote for them.

The commentator described the process as a “ridiculous voting system” and “a fundamentally undemocratic sleight of hand by the government”.

“This is also a cynical and machiavellian ploy by the government to retain power under the guise of being ‘inclusive’ – whatever that means,” the video claims.

The video has been viewed more than 103,000 times on Twitter, and 29,000 times on Facebook.

So what are the rules around foreign nationals being allowed to vote here?

Election information

Local elections are held every five years, when people vote for city and county councillors.

Local councillors create policies for local authorities, which are in charge of services such as roads, planning, housing, parks, community development, environment, and things like libraries and fire services.

Ireland has one of the weakest systems of local government in Europe, according to a draft report by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities cited in the Business Post.

They are different to general elections, where people vote for TDs to make up Dáil Éireann.

Local elections are different to general elections, which are also held every five years at most (depending on whether the Irish parliament is dissolved by then). In general elections, people vote for TDs to make up Dáil Éireann.

The next general election will be held in 2025 at the latest; it will decide what parties can form a Government or hold power.

Only Irish citizens and British citizens who live in Ireland can vote in general elections.

(The Ninth Amendment to the constitution allows non-Irish citizens to vote in general elections, though only British citizens are granted this by law because the UK has a similar law for Irish citizens.)

The practicing of publishing guides to local elections was not started by the current Government and is not related to the recent upsurge in arrivals from Ukraine or the record number of international protection applicants to arrive in Ireland in 2022.

Guides in more than a dozen languages, such as Chinese, Arabic, Polish, and Russian, have already been available since before the last local elections.

Local elections are enshrined in the constitution, following the Twentieth Amendment, approved by referendum in 1999, which uses the same wording as the Ninth Amendment to allow foreign nationals to vote.

Asylum seekers have been eligible to vote in local elections since 2004, when Temporary Registration Certificates were explicitly allowed as identity documents for voting.

Other foreign nationals resident in the state had been eligible to vote in local elections before that change.

The change was brought in under a coalition government of Fianna Fáil and the since-disbanded Progressive Democrats.

All eligible voters must be on the electoral register in order to cast a vote, and must be over 18 years old and reside in Ireland.

Ireland’s situation not unusual. Many other EU countries have similar arrangements, including Belgium, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Slovenia, while other countries do so on the basis of bi-lateral arrangements with other other nations (like Ireland and the UK).

Given that the constitutional basis for foreign national voting was passed by referendum in 1999, and that voting rights were granted to asylum seekers in 2004, it is clear that the publication of a Ukrainian guide is not a “machiavellian ploy”.

Furthermore, as local elections can’t determine who gets to stay or get in national Government, the current Coalition would not be able to use this to “retain power”.

 The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.