Dáil Contribution on the Voting Age

Dáil Contribution on the Voting Age

Full Transcript: I thank Deputy Pringle for bringing this Bill to the House. He may be disappointed at the Government’s approach. I accept that. However, I think it is useful for him to have sparked off the conversation and to have prompted a Government response on this. The Deputy will not be surprised to hear that I am inclined to agree with the approach of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. We are doing a large job of work around the Electoral Reform Bill. There are already things written into that such as the pending electors list for getting 16- and 17-year-olds preregistered. I absolutely accept the Deputy’s point – the same is true for Waterford as it is for Donegal – that very often people leave. In fact, my own vote stayed registered in Waterford throughout all the years I lived away from there. I think a lot of people who are from regional constituencies will have experienced that. Getting 16- and 17-year-olds involved in the process before they leave school can certainly be useful and can do no harm. What we all want is increased political participation and increased democracy.

As I understand it, and the Minister of State can correct me on this, he was saying that if we move this Bill through the Oireachtas and pass it, the timescale for initiating a referendum is 30 to 60 days, which is a very compressed timeframe for something that has deep and far-reaching implications. I suppose we could be accused of a word Deputy Ó Snodaigh uses in Irish; he talks about moilleadóireacht, that we are slowing down. Sometimes less haste is more speed. Getting the electoral commission to look at this issue in depth and come back with recommendations will serve us better in the long run than instigating a process that would have to be concluded within a compressed timeframe.

While I welcome the Bill and the discussion it has promoted, I would say to Deputy Pringle that he set up a number of straw men in his argument. If there is anybody making an argument about the mental capacity of young people or their critical thinking skills, I certainly did not hear it from the Minister of State and the Deputy will not hear it from me. When I was teaching, I ran an election with first class because the polling booths were in the school and, by Christ, they understood even at seven years of age the power of the single transferable vote and how that would split between different people. Young people, many of whom are in the Gallery, are politically engaged. Many of them are politically active. The climate activism and direct action we have seen from youth voices in terms of climate strikes and FridaysForFuture have had a real impact here within the Houses of the Oireachtas. They were invited in to speak in the Seanad just recently. I am all for the participation of youth voices. This is pre-empting the work of the electoral commission but I personally would be in favour of reducing the voting age to 16. However, let us do the work first.

I was reading Deputy Pringle’s contribution in an article on thejournal.ie. Whereas we are not talking about people’s critical thinking skills in any sort of negative way, I did notice the Deputy asked:

How many people in their 50s and 60s take it seriously? How many older people who just go in and tick a box because that’s all they’ve ever done?

Those are not the people I am meeting on the doors in Waterford; that is for sure. The people I am meeting in Waterford are taking their vote seriously. The franchise is an important thing. People died in order that we could exercise it. I think that we have to give it all due consideration.

There are many provisions in the Electoral Reform Bill that are excellent, including the pending electors list. They are about expanding the franchise, making it available to more people, and making sure people do not feel they are excluded from voting because it might impact on their personal safety, for example if they are victims of domestic abuse. A lot of the things in that Bill have been very carefully considered. It is right and proper within our democracy that we give careful consideration to what is most fundamental about a democracy, which is the ability to participate and to vote. While I very much welcome the debate Deputy Pringle has brought forward, I agree with the Minister of State about the correct place for this to happen to make sure everything we provide for within legislation is given due care and consideration. The Constitution, as we know, is a difficult document to change and needs careful consideration before changes are made to it.

On allowing a year’s timeframe for a timed amendment, I think the Deputy said we would miss the next electoral cycle. Well, who knows? The next local elections are due to take place in 2024. If we expedite the work, and I would be hoping that the electoral commission might pre-empt the Second Reading of the Bill, there is every chance we might be able to put this in place in time for the next electoral cycle. I think people within the Green Party would welcome that. Personally I would welcome the expansion of the voting age to 16. However, less haste, more speed; if we are to make this change let us consider it properly and do it properly so that we have it right in the long run.