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Penal Reform Trust welcomes Government decision on prisoner voting rights

15th December 2005

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today welcomed the announcement that the Government will bring forward legislation in the new year to enable prisoners to vote in forthcoming elections.

A report in today's Irish Independent revealed the Government's intention to allow people in prison to vote via postal ballot.  This report was confirmed this afternoon in the Dáil by Tánaiste, Mary Harney.

According to the Tánaiste, "Government has cleared the legislation to provide for prisoners' voting by way of postal ballot in their own constituencies....The Government cleared a Bill at the Cabinet meeting last week." 

In March 2004, in the case of Hirst v. The United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that denying prisoners the right to vote was in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  This decision was upheld by the Court in October this year following an attempt by the British Government to have it overturned.

In its decision, the European Court found, "The legitimacy of the law and the obligation to obey the law flow directly from the right of every citizen to vote." Permitting "elected representatives to disenfranchise a segment of the population finds no place in a democracy built upon principles of inclusiveness, equality, and citizen participation." 

"We very much welcome the Government's announcement today, and look forward to seeing the draft Bill when it is published next year," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines.  "The Penal Reform Trust has been campaigning on this issue since the original decision of the European Court in March 2004.  It is a campaign that received strong support from all opposition parties, including the recent introduction of a private member's bill by Fine Gael TD Gay Mitchell on this issue. We are pleased to see that the Government is now taking action to bring Ireland's electoral laws in line with European Human Rights Law."

For more information see "Is locking prisoners out of the polls a crime?" by Rick Lines,Irish Examiner Opinion Piece (30 August 2005)
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