Government TD criticises decision to hold referendum on presidential candidate age

Olivia Mitchell says ’no irresistible groundswell of support’ to drop age from 35 to 21

A senior Fine Gael TD has criticised the Government's decision to hold a referendum on reducing the age for presidential candidates from 35 to 21, saying there was "no overwhelming demand" for it. Dublin South TD Olivia Mitchell said: "Try as I might I cannot think of a single argument for a change to the age at which a person may be a candidate for president."

Ms Mitchell was speaking during a Dáil debate on the Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill which allows for a referendum on reducing the age of candidates for the presidency.

She told the Dáil there was “certainly no widespread clamour, no overwhelming demand and no irresistible groundswell of support for dropping the age of eligibility for a presidential candidate”.

She added:“If we do elect a 21-year-old, with no experience of life, no training and no expertise, and we are faced with a constitutional crisis, what is likely to be the outcome?”


“The Irish people – all of us – can lose the run of ourselves. I am reminded that supposedly sensible, qualified people thought it was a good idea to send a turkey to represent us in the Eurovision Song Contest. We can be deluded and, if we make a decision about the president in a moment of temporary delusion, we will live with the consequences of it for seven years.”

Introducing the legislation, Minister of State Ann Phelan said the age of eligibility to be president ranged from 18 in Croatia, Finland and France to 50 in Italy. "Most countries have a minimum age requirement" of 35 to 40, and the age of presidents in Ireland has ranged from 46 to 78.

Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McConalogue said his party supported the measure but the decision to proceed with this issue when there were more pressing political reform issues to be considered “is another distraction from the need for the current administration to engage in real government”.

Sinn Féin's Brian Stanley also said his party would support the measure, but the Government had reneged on its commitment to hold a referendum by the end of this year on reducing the voting age from 18 to 16.

The Bill was passed without a vote and now goes to the Seanad.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times