Friday 19 July 2019

Government 'got it wrong' on presidential age

Communications Minister Alex White. Photo: Frank McGrath
Communications Minister Alex White. Photo: Frank McGrath
John Downing

John Downing

The Government "got it wrong" on last month's presidential age referendum, Communications Minister Alex White has conceded.

The proposal, to change the minimum age for candidates from 35 years to 21, was defeated by a ratio of three-to-one after a non-campaign by Government. Mr White said the Government gave the perception the proposal was some kind of "window-dressing" and that somebody as young as 21 could somehow become president.

"I would have preferred if the 'age referendum' was brought forward among a suite of proposals that people could have looked at on the same day. Not as something which looked as if it had been 'cobbled together,'" Mr White said.

"I voted 'Yes' for it. I think 35 is an arbitrary age. And this thing about you couldn't have a 21-year-old president. I mean, there's a lot of 68-year-olds I wouldn't have near the place," the minister added.

Mr White said he believes the Constitutional Convention should be revived to prepare more referendums on social issues. This included repealing the eighth amendment which seriously restricts the availability of abortion - but these matters are for the next government.

The Labour TD said there must be a new rapid response from TDs and senators to meet recommendations for change from the Constitutional Convention. And the experience of the same-sex marriage referendum showed that civil society groups, rather than political parties, should lead a debate.

On abortion, Mr White said Labour is committed to pledging a referendum ending the eighth amendment. But the party must now have an internal debate about what might be put in its place.

Overall, he said the Constitution stood the test of time and sustained liberties.

Irish Independent

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