NI High Court refuses application to permit Northern Ireland citizens to vote in upcoming referendum

The applicant, Ms. Morelli is a student in Belfast, which is also her main place of residence. Ms Morelli is also an Irish citizen. Notwithstanding her citizenship Ms Morelli is not permitted to vote in an Irish referendum as she does not ordinarily reside in a constituency. The applicant claims that this refusal violates her rights and is contrary to the:

  1. Constitution
  2. The Good Friday Agreement
  3. The European Convention on Human Rights

The Court stated that the applicant would have to make an arguable case for a judicial review of the refusal to extend the vote to her.

In her first claim, the applicant stated that the refusal to allow her to vote is contrary to Articles 2, 16.2 and 47.3 of the Irish Constitution. Article 47.3 allows for citizens who are eligible to vote for members of Dail Eireann, to also vote at referendums. Article 16.1.2 then considers persons in the State of Ireland who can vote for members of Dail Eireann. Article 16.1.2 asserts that ‘persons in the State…who...comply with the provisions of the law relating to the election of members of Dail Eireann’ are allowed to vote. These relevant provisions are section 7 and 8 of the Electoral Act 1992.  

These provisions of the law provide for an individual to vote in a presidential election and Dail elections if the person is a citizen of Ireland and has reached the age of eighteen and is ‘ordinarily resident’ in Ireland.  The wording clearly stated that the requirement to be ordinarily resident was a deciding factor in granting persons the right to vote.  

The respondents argued that the wording of the Articles are clear, in that, a right to vote at referendums is linked to the right to vote in elections for Dail Eireann. Furthermore, to vote in elections for Dail Eireann persons have to be resident in Ireland.

The applicant claims that the refusal to allow her to vote breaches the Good Friday Agreement. The applicant relied on Article 1 of the Good Friday Agreement to support her claim (amongst other things Article 1 provides that the people of Northern Ireland are free to identify as Irish, British or both and can hold dual citizenship). The court found that while Article 1 provides for the citizenship of persons in Northern Ireland it does not deal with voting rights. Article 29.6 states that ‘no international agreement shall be part of domestic law save as may be determined by the Oireachtas.’ The Court cited the cases Doherty v Governor of Portlaoise Prison [2002] and O’Neill v The Governor of Castlerea Prison [2004] which both stated that the Good Friday Agreement was never made part of Irish Law.

The final declaration sought by the applicant is that the refusal to allow her to vote is a breach of Article 10 and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003. The court considered the wording of Article 3 of the convention. The courts looked at Hilbe v Liechtenstein and Niedzwiedz v Poland which both stated that Article three does not apply to referendums. The Court also found that Article 10 did not apply as she is not being prevented from expressing her opinions on the issue of the referendum.

The court concluded that the applicant failed to make an arguable case and refused her application for judicial review.

Click here for a copy of the judgement.



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