At 16 you can leave school, work, pay tax - why not vote?
Holly Casey, Lucan, 17: “It would be good if it’s reduced, but personally, I don’t really care about politics, so even if it was reduced I’m not sure if I’d be bothered to actually vote. I’m not sure how many people would be interested in voting at that age. If our awareness was brought up about it then sure. But I’m happy waiting until I’m a proper adult.” photograph: brenda fitzsimons
Fergus McArdle, Naas, 18: “I definitely think it shouldn’t be changed to 16 . . . People over 18 already don’t know what they’re voting for, and to give a decision like that to 16-year-olds is probably a bad idea. It probably should be increased to 21. [In school] we learned how the Irish political system was structured, but I didn’t really learn about the direction of any of the parties.” photograph: brenda fitzsimons
Senator Kathryn Reilly: “Just because you’re 16 doesn’t mean you’re going to make a worse decision than someone who is 35 or 36.”
Simon Odekunle, Lucan, 16: “Sixteen-year-olds should be allowed to vote because in a lot of other respects we’re treated like adults. We’re considered mature enough for those type of things, so why can’t we be considered to be mature enough to vote? I want to have my opinion heard . . . and if I did have the vote I would vote maturely.” photograph: brenda fitzsimons
The Convention on the Constitution wants us to lower the voting age to 16. Is it a good idea?
The passing of a motion at last weekend’s Convention on the Constitution to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16 could make a small but significant change to Irish politics. The Government has established the convention to review and make recommendations on certain aspects of the Constitution.
If Ireland chooses to lower the voting age it will become one of a small number of places in Europe to do so. Within the past 10 years, Austria, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey have all granted their citizens the right to vote at 16. Germany and Switzerland offer limited voting rights to under-18s, and a lower voting age has also been mooted in Scotland and Wales.
In Ireland the National Youth Council has campaigned for years for a lower voting age. The 2011 census recorded more than 110,000 16- and 17-year-olds living in the State, and the council believes they’re entitled to have a say in electoral politics.
“If a 16-year-old can leave school, seek full-time employment and pay tax, why can we not vote and have a say in issues that affect us?” said Ciara O’Donoghue of the Vote@16 campaign last weekend.Some academics and campaigners also claim a broader franchise would help solve the problem of low turnout among young voters.
“There are political scientists who would argue that . . . if you start the voting age at 16 you’re catching young voters for their first election when they’re still at home, still at school, with a greater possibility to be socialised into the democratic movement,” says David Farrell, head of University College Dublin’s school of politics and academic consultant to the constitutional convention.
The argument, says Farrell, is that, by 18, people have moved away from home or started a career, and they’re less likely to register to vote. “Their lives are far more preoccupied with getting themselves to the next stage of their development, and elections just don’t feature.”
Not everyone agrees with the proposal. An Ipsos MRBI poll for this newspaper in November found that 56 per cent of respondents opposed a lower voting age.
Charlie Flanagan, a Fine Gael TD, says Ireland lacks the second-level education to enable young people to make informed political choices. “Any such move would have to be accompanied with a comprehensive programme of civics, political leadership and democracy,” says Flanagan.