Wednesday 23 May 2018

Voters turned off by the idea of electing a 21-year-old president, insists Taoiseach

Enda Kenny at the count centre in Dublin on Saturday
Enda Kenny at the count centre in Dublin on Saturday
Presidential age referendum results
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

The presidential age referendum was designed to allow people in their early 30s to contest for the "highest office in the land", Taoiseach Enda Kenny has insisted.

Mr Kenny said the referendum, which was comfortably defeated on Friday, was not necessarily designed to produce a 21-year-old president.

But he said voters were turned off by the idea of a presidential election campaign being contested by people as young as 21 and this played a factor in their decision to vote No.

The Government has been criticised over its decision to stage the referendum in the first place, with many Fine Gael politicians openly opposed to the proposal to reduce the age from 35 to 21.


But the Taoiseach suggested that people became too caught up on the idea of a 21-year-old president and that instead the referendum was about allowing people in their early 30s to run for Áras An Uachtaráin.

He said this was one of the main factors behind the defeat, as well as a much stronger level of engagement in the same-sex marriage referendum.

"Obviously with the Marriage Equality Referendum, there was a great deal of discussion and a great deal of issues to be talked about and discussed around the country.

"To a great extent, the second referendum, in respect of the reduction of the presidential age and eligibility, became side-lined or left behind," Mr Kenny said.

"People focused on the age of 21 as if it was going to be a contest to elect people at 21 years of age, when, in fact, the argument was could you elect somebody who was 34, or 33 or 30?

"So the question in that referendum was about removing the age bar from 35 and bringing it down to 21, so that the people above that age could contest for the highest office in the land.

"But I think it's fair to say, given the extent of the result, people were very clear that they didn't want that age limit reduced and, of course, we accept that. But I think to an extent that the issue of the argument became sidelined because of the much greater topical issues that centred around marriage equality," he added.

Tánaiste Joan Burton admitted that the Labour Party focused much more heavily on the marriage referendum.

"I would say in the whole campaign . . . if I was asked 20 times about the age of contesting the presidency, that might be a slight exaggeration," Ms Burton said.

"At one stage there was a mention of political pensions and I think that might have killed it off in its entirety," she added.


The referendum itself was defeated heavily, with 73.1pc voting No and 26.9pc voting Yes. The vote was one of many proposed by the Constitutional Convention.

Dublin City University Professor Colum Kenny said the Government missed an opportunity by not holding a referendum on a more pressing issue.

"The Government chose this question rather than any other, and there were many other possible reforms," he said.

"They could have proposed votes for emigrants, a remarkable number of whom flew home last week at their own expense to have their say on marriage equality," he added.

Irish Independent

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