Reduction of term for presidents rejected
The Constitutional Convention has voted in favour of lowering the voting age but has rejected the reduction of the presidential term of office from seven years to five.
In its first major deliberations, the 100-strong convention voted by a narrow margin of 52 per cent to 47 per cent to lower the age of voting from 18 to 17, at the end of two days of deliberations at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Co Dublin.
But in one of a series of votes that went outside the scope of the Government’s term of reference, a clear majority (48 per cent to 39 per cent) said if the voting age was lowered, it would be better to reduce it to 16. By contrast, the members did not favour the lowering of the age of candidacy – the current minimum age for a Dáil candidate is 21.
There was a clear rejection of the proposition to lower the presidential term of office to five years, with 57 per cent against compared with 43 per cent for. An overwhelming majority (80 per cent to 14 per cent) voted against aligning the presidential election to local and European elections.
The convention, chaired by Tom Arnold the chief executive of Concern, has been convened to make determinations on at least eight proposed constitutional changes. Its decisions are not binding on Government but it must respond to each decision made within four months.
The other big question this weekend surrounded the efficacy of the convention itself.
Make-up of convention
The convention is comprised of Mr Arnold, 33 politicians from both jurisdictions, and 66 citizens selected by age, sex, geography and social status. There were concerns in the run-up to the weekend that turnout would be low, that politicians would dominate and the issues under discussion were too tangential to merit serious debate.
In the event, there was strong consensus among participants that the first weekend had been a success. The turnout was very high among both groups (though none of Sinn Féin’s three high-profile delegates – Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald and Martin McGuinness – attended, with substitutes filling in).
There was also strong agreement that the level of engagement had been very high, particularly in the round-table discussions where the non-political participants were more comfortable making their arguments. Only once before has a combination of politicians and citizens been used in an assembly of this sort, in Australia during the 1990s.
Nomination of presidents
And in a series of departures the convention also voted on a number of issues not strictly within the terms of reference. Pointedly, there was overwhelming support for the proposition that citizens should be given a say in the nomination of presidential candidates – the power resides with the Oireachtas and local authorities at present.
This came after a number of impassioned interventions from the floor by Senator David Norris. The terms of reference allow consideration of other issues but only after the first eight have been decided.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Arnold said the terms allowed it. “We did have a primary duty to do what the Oireachtas asked us to do. We did vote on the specific thing that Oireachtas asked us to vote on. There was a range of other matters discussed. We did broaden the questions we put to people to get their opinions on a range of other issues.”
The meeting was the first of eight sessions this year.