The Irish government is to hold a referendum to determine whether Irish citizens from the north and citizens living outside the country should be able to vote in the Irish presidential election.

The decision, which was taken at a cabinet meeting last week, was described by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as a “clear recognition of the importance that Ireland attached to her citizens wherever they were.” Mr Kenny made the announcement during a speech at Philadelphia's Irish Famine memorial.

He added: "I am especially pleased to be making this announcement as we prepare for our worldwide celebration of St Patrick's Day and of all that is Irish.

"I hope this will be well received by Irish people all over the world."

If the referendum passes it is believed it would come into effect for the 2025 poll.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD has welcomed the announcement. He said: “Sinn Féin has been pressing the Irish government since the Good Friday Agreement to allow for citizens in the north and in the diaspora to have the vote in presidential elections.

"The Taoiseach’s announcement today is very welcome but the government needs to clarify quickly what this means in practice and when the referendum will be held.

"Last November the Taoiseach, in a reply to me in the Dáil, ruled out a referendum this year or next. This would mean that the vote would not be available for citizens in the north or the diaspora before 2025.”

He added: "The Constitutional Convention voted on this issue in September 2013. A significant majority of its members agreed to extend voting rights to Irish citizens living abroad and in the north.  In November 2015 the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs made a recommendation to extend the voting rights also, following criticism by the European Commission.

"Sinn Féin believes that Irish citizens living and working outside of the state, and in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, those living in the north, should be able to vote in presidential elections."