Decision on voting age could come ahead of 2024 local, European elections

Referendum change not required to reduce age to 16 for specific types of election

A referendum is however required to change the voting age for general and presidential elections as well as referendums. Photograph: iStock

A referendum is however required to change the voting age for general and presidential elections as well as referendums. Photograph: iStock

 

A decision on whether to reduce the voting age to 16 could be made ahead of the 2024 local and European elections following a commitment by Minister of State for Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan.

Voting in the local and European elections for 16 and 17-year-olds requires legislative change but not a referendum.

A referendum is however required to change the voting age for general and presidential elections as well as referendums.

Mr Noonan said he met the Second-Level Students’ Union and gave a commitment to examine the matter, “given that it is only a legislative requirement, as we move towards the 2024 local elections”.

The Government also gave a commitment to a Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity and he hoped Comhairle na n-Óg would have a specific role in that.

“Young people are becoming front and centre and, as in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, they should be consulted and should be part of the process.

“It is vital that we give due consideration to that.”

He said “I give my full commitment that we will explore every avenue to try to make it happen”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne, who has campaigned for a reduction in the voting age, said that numerous countries have reduced the voting age and evidence showed that “along with political education, if we encourage young people at 16 and 17 to vote, they become habitual voters and they do engage”.

He said a specific commitment in the programme for government is that Ireland would look at learning from the Scottish experience where the voting age has been reduced.

Patterns

Mr Byrne said the voting age in Scotland was reduced in 2014 for the Scottish independence referendum but not for local or parliamentary elections.

Wales reduced the voting age for its Senedd or parliamentary elections, while the Isle of Man has allowed voting from age 16 since 2006.

Voting from age 16 across local, general and other elections has been permitted in Austria since 2007. The voting age is also 16 in Malta, Estonia and a number of German Länder or states. In Greece voting is allowed from age 17 and Belgium is to reduce voting age to 16 for the 2024 local and European elections.

He said evidence in Austria over the past 14 years showed it was not the case that younger voter would “vote in a particular direction and for all sorts of crazy candidates”. Evidence showed that younger generations tend to follow the broad patterns of other generations except that the issues are different, he said.

The Wexford Senator has introduced a Bill to allow the change be introduced for the 2024 elections. “It provides enough time for a lead in to deal with all of the issues and engage in that programme of political education,” he said.

The Minister said the electoral commission, to be established through the Electoral Reform Bill, will conduct research which could include work on reducing the voting age.

Mr Noonan pointed to the work of the Convention on the Constitution which did not support a reduction in age for specific types of elections but instead favoured a referendum. He added that the Citizens’ Assembly in 2018 voted by 80 per cent in favour of reducing the voting age but did not specify which elections it would apply to.