Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan has said that Irish citizens abroad should be able to vote in Irish Presidential elections.

The Minister is currently on his first official visit to the United States since taking up the newly created office during the summer.

Today he announced Government funding of nearly €2m for services supporting Irish emigrants in the US.

The Constitutional Convention recommended that a referendum be called to extend voting rights in Irish Presidential Elections to people in Northern Ireland and Irish citizens around the world.

The Department of the Environment is currently putting together a proposal in response to this which will be brought to the Government before Christmas, the Minister said.

Speaking on a visit to the New York Irish Centre Minister Deenihan said he thought extending voting rights in Presidential elections would really connect the Irish diaspora to the country and would give them "a say" in how the country was administered.

He said that personally he was "very much in favour" of a proposed referendum going ahead next year and that Cabinet would make a decision on the issue before Christmas.

He said people viewed the President not just as the President of the Republic of Ireland but as the President of the whole nation, and had started very strongly with Mary Robinson.

He said this was evident in the reception that the current President Michael D Higgins experienced as he travelled around the world.

There are around 1 million active Irish passports outside of Ireland, 800,000 of which were issued in the last 8 years, meaning that if even half of these registered to be included on an electorate of diaspora voters, Irish citizens abroad would make up a significant new constituency.

Meanwhile the Minister announced today funding totally €1.8m for 34 organisations supporting vulnerable Irish emigrants in the United States.

The funding is shared between a range of organisations in New York, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta.

The Minister is currently on a five day trip to the United States, with several engagements in New York and Philadelphia.

Latest US census figures show there are around 150,000 Irish born people in the United States and some 34 million claim Irish heritage.

Diaspora minister to visit the United States