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Ska människor i Nordirland få rösta i valet till Europaparlamentet? – Med tanke på att landet lyder under EU-lagstiftningen 

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"Det verkar lite konstigt att om du är en fransk medborgare som bor på Bali, då kan du rösta i valet till Europaparlamentet, men om du är en irländsk medborgare som bor i Belfast kan du inte." – writes  Else Kvist, of New Europeans UK.

Questions were raised at the UK Parliament, as to why Irish and British citizens living in Northern Ireland cannot vote and stand in the upcoming elections for the European Parliament – despite the region in effect remaining in the Single Market. The issue was raised by the former Deputy Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Jane Morrice, who helped architect the Good Friday Agreement more than 25 years ago. It comes at a time when the Northern Ireland Assembly has just got up and running again after two years of stalemate over the Brexit trade agreement. 

Citizens' Rights APPG, som hölls i ett av mötesrummen utanför Westminster Hall, där drottning Elizabeth II låg i staten, hade hört talas om rösträtt för EU-medborgare bosatta i Storbritannien, i de kommande lokala och allmänna valen. Fokus för mötet, som anordnades av New Europeans UK, flyttades sedan till valet till Europaparlamentet i juni, där många EU-medborgare som bor i Storbritannien kommer att kunna rösta i, om deras ursprungsland tillåter sina medborgare att rösta från utlandet. Alla utom fyra av de 27 EU-länderna tillåter sina medborgare att rösta från utlandet. 

Irland bland fyra nationer som fråntar medborgare utomlands 

The “culprits” – as chair of New Europeans UK, Prof. Ruvi Ziegler has described it – who don’t allow their citizens to vote from abroad are: Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, and Denmark. “And that’s particularly problematic in the UK as those people haven’t left the EU – Britain caused them to live outside the EU. They came here as people who moved to an EU country, they didn’t get to vote in the referendum, and are now set to be losing out. Even more so in Northern Ireland,” said Prof. Ziegler before the meeting heard from Jane Morrice, a former BBC journalist turned political campaigner, who was tuning into the meeting online from Belfast.

Jane Morrice wanted to know what is being done to accommodate the European rights of the citizens of Northern Ireland – referring to those with either British or Irish citizenship or both – at the European Parliament elections in June. She questioned why the citizens of Northern Ireland will not be able to vote or stand in those elections. “It’s important to note that there are about half a million people in Northern Ireland with Irish citizenship, including British and Irish citizens. -Many of them will want to exercise their European rights. So can we establish what is being done about it?”, she asked. 

Chair of New Europeans UK, Prof Ruvi Ziegler, responded: “The addressee is really the Irish state, as it’s a national matter for each country in the EU to enfranchise its citizens. The particular complication in Northern Ireland is not only that so many citizens there are actually European citizens – but that they are European citizens in an area that is outside the EU yet governed to a large extent by EU law because of the Northern Ireland Protocol. -That is different than if they were living in Bali or Canada.”

Annons

Prof. Ziegler went on to say that it’s for Irish institutions to consider whether there should be a special exemption for Northern Ireland given its circumstances. – “As there is a bigger debate in Ireland as to whether Irish citizens who live outside Ireland should be able to vote – as frankly there are so many Irish nationals who live outside Ireland.” he added. 

Jane Morrice, som var chef för EU-kommissionens kontor i Nordirland, fortsatte sedan med att säga att hon inte nödvändigtvis letade efter ett omedelbart svar, utan ville öka medvetenheten om att en halv miljon EU-medborgare i Nordirland fråntas sin rösträtt kl. valet till Europaparlamentet, som äger rum 6-9 juni. Långfredagsavtalet fastställde att personer födda i Nordirland kan välja att ha irländskt eller brittiskt medborgarskap eller båda. 

En union av medborgare 

Founder and CEO of New Europeans UK, Roger Casale, then pointed out: “The EU is a union of markets and money – but it is also a union of citizens. The European Union loves talking about itself as a Europe of citizens – so what about European citizens in Northern Ireland? It does seem a bit odd that if you are a French citizen living in Bali, then you can vote in the European Parliament election, yet if you are an Irish citizen living in Belfast you can’t. 

“I don’t want to rock the boat here, you (Jane Morrice) were very much involved with the Good Friday agreement, and I was a newly elected MP at the time. We will always remember where we came from and where we need to stay. -Nevertheless, there is something called Europe and the European Union – and of course Northern Ireland is part of the single market. – So if it’s part of the single market shouldn’t it also have representatives in the European Parliament? 

Som en av grundarna av Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, ett parti över gemenskaperna, var Jane Morrice involverad i förhandlingarna som ledde till långfredagsavtalet 1998. Hon svarade genom att förklara: “British or Irish, according to the Good Friday Agreement, there can’t be discrimination – both British and Irish should be able to exercise their European rights – whether or not  they hold an Irish passport – and that is a very difficult and sensitive issue. 

“On representation too that is an argument of many who are anti-protocol, who say why should we do this without representation? -So it’s certainly an answer for them to get representation – stand in the European Parliament elections.” 

Brexitförhandlingarna och regeringens sammanbrott 

The Northern Ireland Protocol was the first trade agreement struck between the UK and the EU, as part of the wider Brexit negotiations. It came into force on 1 January 2021 with the aim of avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. But it meant new checks on goods arriving at Northern Ireland’s ports from Great Britain, which in effect created a border down the Irish Sea. – Something which upsets unionists, who believe it undermines Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. And led the DUP to boycott Northern Ireland’s power-sharing administration at Stormont. 

Protokollet ändrades senare med ett nytt avtal kallat Windsor Framework, som införde ett system med två handelsbanor. De gröna körfälten är för varor som finns kvar i Nordirland med minimalt med pappersarbete och inga kontroller. De röda körfälten är för varor som kan hamna i EU och som därmed fortsätter att kräva kontroller. Systemet togs i drift den 1 oktober 2023 trots att DUP vägrade att stödja det. 

Dödläge brutet 

The deadlock was finally broken earlier this year, when the DUP agreed to a new trade agreement called “Safeguarding the Union” following negotiations with the British government. The deal will further reduce checks and paperwork on goods moving from the rest of the UK into Northern Ireland. It also paved the way for the DUP to end its boycott of the devolved government and the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont is now up and running again. It was a historic moment, as Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill was appointed Northern Ireland’s first nationalist first minister. The role of deputy first minister was taken up by the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly. Devolved government in Northern Ireland can only operate on a cross-community basis with the involvement of both unionists and nationalists according to power-sharing rules under the Good Friday Agreement. 

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