Q&A: The referendum on age of eligibility for office of President

Everything you need to know ahead of vote on constitutional change on May 22nd

Áras an Uachtaráin: reducing the eligibility age for the president from 35 to 21 was one of a large number of recommendations made by the Convention on the Constitution

Áras an Uachtaráin: reducing the eligibility age for the president from 35 to 21 was one of a large number of recommendations made by the Convention on the Constitution

 

Why is the referendum on the age of eligibility for the office of President being held?
Reducing the eligibility age for the president from 35 to 21 was one of a large number of recommendations made by the Convention on the Constitution, which was set up to review Bunracht na hÉireann.

The principal argument advanced was that 35 was too high an age of eligibility given the voting age is 18, and the age at which a person becomes eligible to become a TD or senator is 21.

What is proposed?
A very simple change where the wording of article 12.4.1 of the Constitution is replaced with the following: “Every citizen who has reached the age of twenty-one years is eligible for election to the office of President.”

What is the present constitutional position?
Article 12.4.1 of the Constitution states: “Every citizen who has reached his thirty-fifth year is eligible for election to the office of President.”

The Irish version of the 1937 article is: “Gach saoránach ag a bhfuil cúig bliana triochad slán, is intofa chun oifig an Uachtaráin é.”

The 1937 wording seems to suggest a little uncertainty between both languages. The English version could be taken to suggest a person at the age of 34 (“in his 35th year”) could be president, while the Irish language version makes clear the minimum age is 35.

Does the change reflect that possible uncertainty?
No. The wording is more explicit. Both the English and Irish versions state very clearly that the person should be 21 years of age.

What are the arguments for and against?
The arguments for a Yes vote is that 35 is too high an age and is arbitrary, that it discriminates against younger citizens. A person can be elected to the national parliament at 21. Therefore there is no reason why they cannot aspire at that age to the highest office.

The argument for a No vote is that if 35 is too high an age of eligibility, 21 is too young. The assertion has to do with experience, wisdom, judgment and maturity.

Those qualities are necessary, the argument goes, as the president is the first citizen of the country and represents all citizens.

In addition, the president has specific constitutional powers including the power to dissolve the Dáil, and to refer Bills to the Supreme Court for decisions on constitutionality.

No matter how bright the person is at 21, according to this line of argument, it would be very unusual for him or her to have acquired all those traits and qualities.