Friday 22 February 2019

Ignoring the needs of our youth in an invisible referendum

If a person can be elected to the national parliament at 21, there is no reason why they can't also be elected to the office of President
If a person can be elected to the national parliament at 21, there is no reason why they can't also be elected to the office of President
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

Amid all the hype of the marriage referendum, the other proposal - to lower the age of presidential candidates - has been side-lined as inconsequential. More diversity on the ballot and more choice are the only issues here since, ultimately, voters will continue to choose their preferred president. And by ignoring this referendum, the Government is signalling that it doesn't really value young people.

If a person can be elected to the national parliament at 21, there is no reason why they can't also be elected to the office of President.

Besides, setting the age as high as 35 discriminates against younger people who may be just as capable of carrying out the job.

It doesn't mean that Niall Horan is a certainty for the áras next time either. Let's remember that to make it on to the Presidential ballot paper, you must first be nominated by at least 20 members of the Oireachtas or four county or city councils.

But what this referendum is offering is a real chance to increase our frankly poor youth involvement in politics. Exploring the issue of youth disengagement in politics reveals an issue of voter turnout immediately: young people are simply not voting.

Polls suggest that more than 120,000 under-25s are not even on the electoral register. The new figures were compiled by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) by applying previous research to today's population of 18-to-25-year-olds, which stands at around 400,000. Figures suggest that more than 33,000 young people may not be registered in Dublin; Cork city and county has 27,178 non-registered young voters; and Co Galway has 13,724.

Voter turnouts aren't always high, especially when it comes to local elections or a referendum. It's not ideal, but it's not so much of a problem if they are declining uniformly over different demographic groups, and if the people who vote are representative of the general population. But we clearly have a fairly big gap between the number of old people and young people voting. Overall, the average age of our Dáil is a decidedly middle-aged 48.5. Governments will always work for the people who elect them, so little wonder that pensions and free travel get triple-locked while university tuition fees get trebled.

Sharp rises in student fees, vast cuts to youth dole and uncertainties over jobs have left young people feeling overlooked and ignored by the political climate. The youth vote makes up almost half a million people. If all of these people went out to vote it could make for a real change.

It simply isn't true that young people aren't interested in politics. They care about lots of different issues, such as the environment, human rights, animals and their own futures, but often politics seems like a closed game and never more so when our Government is ignoring a referendum that could allow them run for the presidency.

Lowering the voting age to 16 is often mooted as a means of countering young people's disengagement from politics. If you give people the vote early, then their democratic engagement will increase.

Treat them like citizens and they will act as such. It is vital that voting starts young, both to represent the young and also to form the vital voting habit. Yet the Government has shelved its recommendation to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 for the moment.

It had promised this would be put to a referendum during the lifetime of this Coalition but the Government is throwing young people the sop of a shot at the presidency instead of trying to bring them in from the political cold.

Irish Independent

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