Thursday 27 October 2016

Young voters are right to smell a rat in presidential age frivolity

Liam Fay

Published 05/04/2015 | 02:30

Niall Horan - would his presidential candidature be any more daft than previous celebrity suggestions?
Niall Horan - would his presidential candidature be any more daft than previous celebrity suggestions?

The kids are alright. According to the polls, in fact, the majority of the nation's young people are much more politically alert than the greybeards of the political class would like to think. Last week saw publication of intriguing research which suggests growing opposition to what we seem to be obliged to call the 'other' constitutional referendum taking place in May: the Government's proposal that the age of eligibility for a presidential candidate be lowered from 35 to 21.

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Gratifyingly, this opposition is conspicuously pronounced among younger voters, the demographic which was supposed to be dazzled and delighted by the Coalition's offer of an insultingly frivolous bauble.

Figures from the survey conducted by RTÉ in association with Amarach Research show that almost 70pc of the populace are against the age-lowering. To nobody's surprise, resistance to the idea of a whippersnapper in the Áras is strongest among older voters - with only 13pc of those over the age of 55 thinking that 21-year-olds should be allowed to run for the presidency.

Distrust of the upcoming generation is a trademark of our species. Human society has been in a permanent state of decline and decadence since our ancestors first learned to spell the words, and the scruffy degenerates responsible for dragging us to hell in a handcart are invariably identified as the feckless youth.

Most of those older citizens who baulk at the thought of a twentysomething presidential candidate may well harbour high-minded notions about the dignity of the office or the need for decades of life-experience - but you can be pretty sure that some are just indulging their hard-earned right to be grumpy old gits.

Fears that a youthful head of state would become notorious for the state of his head - by which I mean haircut - probably played a bigger role in the deliberations of many than they would ever admit. In this sense, the poll's findings about the views of the over-55s are just another aerial view of the eternal generation gap.

Much more interesting, however, was what the poll revealed about the intentions of younger voters. Among 15 to 24-year-olds, only 48pc are in favour of reducing the presidential candidate age, while 52pc are against. This looks like good news.

A sizeable swathe of the youthful population has evidently copped onto the fact that the Government is playing them for fools.

In reality, the prospect of a 21-year-old presidential candidate is nowhere near as scary as some crimson-gilled commentators would have you believe. Thus far, much of the media and political discussion about this issue has been laughably fogeyish. Niall Horan, the Mullingar-born warbler with boyband One Direction, is repeatedly cited in shock! horror! tones as emblematic of the teeny-bopper celebrity candidates to which we would inevitably be subjected if the referendum is passed. I know next to nothing about young master Horan but I can't see anything about him that would render his candidature any more intrinsically daft than the candidatures of some of the showbiz luminaries that were suggested in the lead-up to the 2011 presidential elections.

Ultimately, the real problem with the Government's proposal is the rank cynicism from which it springs. The proposed lowering of the presidential candidate age was just one of 38 recommendations put forward by the Constitutional Convention, the centrepiece of what we now know was an elaborate ruse by Fine Gael and Labour to thwart serious political reform for a decade. The ease and speed with which the Cabinet agreed to hold a referendum on this trivial question -while ignoring all the other suggested changes to the constitution - tells you everything you need to know about the Coalition's reforming bona fides.

It is not unreasonable to assume that growing numbers of young people are awakening to the myriad ways (housing, wages, welfare, taxes) in which they are being priced out of their own country by government policy. If there was ever a time for youthful political revolt, it was surely the last few years. The squeeze on living standards has bitten most deeply on the young.

The young are also the most vulnerable to exploitative zero-hours contracts and JobBridge placements. In the past, people didn't expect to be paid much when they secured their first job, but they did expect to be paid something. Many of the young now stoically accept that the entry price for employment is to take unpaid internships. Even with the return of growth, the big economic picture continues to favour the older at the expense of the young.

The prolonged period of abnormally low interest rates has inflated the value of assets, which are concentrated in the hands of the more advanced in years. Rising house prices in Dublin and other cities have been a boon for those who got on to the property escalator when homes were more affordable. For the young, it puts home ownership even further out of reach.

Against this backdrop, there is something arrogantly disdainful about a government which presents a reduction in the presidential candidate age as a significant reform.

When campaigning begins in earnest - and we can expect the Coalition's campaigning to sound very earnest indeed - ministers should be laughed off the stage if they start waffling on about making Ireland a more youth-friendly country.

For most of the political class, communicating with the young still means talking to people like they were two-year-olds.

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