YOUTH organisations are to intensify their campaign to lower the voting age to 16 years when they meet with Environment Minister John Gormley next month.
The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) told a Dail committee yesterday that it plans to intensify its campaign to lower the voting age so that young people have a say on how national and local government is run.
It said 16- and 17-year-old teenagers should be allowed vote so they have a say on decisions that affect their lives.
Despite having the right to leave school, get a job and pay taxes, a 17-year-old does not have the right to vote. The voting age for Dail elections was reduced to 18 years in 1972.
Austria is the only EU country that allows 16-year-olds vote in all its elections.
NYCI member Maria Kelly told the Oireachtas Constitution committee she accepted that young people were less likely to vote than older age groups. But she said voters who were introduced to voting at a young age were more likely to vote for the rest of their lives.
The committee is currently examining the voting system in Ireland and is to report to the Government on its findings.
Research has found that over a quarter of people aged between 18 and 25 are not registered to vote. Low voter turnout is most acute among the 18 to 21 age group.
Lowering the voting age to 16 would mean 115,000 extra voters would be entitled to go to the polls should an election be held next year. But the two biggest parties would be unlikely to benefit from lowering the voting age. An exit poll from the 2007 general election showed support for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael increased among older voters, while Sinn Fein and the Green Party did better among younger age groups.
The NYCI campaign to lower the voting age was backed yesterday by research by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). USI President Peter Mannion said USI has no official policy on the voting age. But a survey of third-level students under 18 years found they felt they had adult responsibilities but no rights. Politicians were more likely to represent their interests if they had a vote, he said.
Research in Austria in 2008 after 16-year-olds voted for the first time found that young voters wanted and needed to know more about politics. Austrian ambassador to Ireland, Walter Hagg, said young voters in his country had also shown little trust in politicians.