The Electoral (Amendment) (Voting at 16) Bill 2016 is up for debate in Seanad Éireann today; if it passes, it will lower the voting age to 16 for local and European elections.
Introduced by Donegal SF Senator Padraig MacLochlainn, Senator Fintan Warfield and Senator Lynn Ruane, the Bill is being supported by The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), who are calling on all Senators to support the extension of voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds.
Support from Senators will allow the Bill to progress to the next stage when it comes before the Seanad at committee stage later today.
Speaking ahead of the debate, James Doorley, NYCI Deputy Director said: “While we need a referendum to change the constitution to extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds for Dáil elections and Presidential elections, all that is required for the Local and European Parliament elections is a change in legislation,” explained Mr Doorley.
“When the bill was first presented in March 2017, the Government passed a motion delaying progress for nine months to allow for more time to hear views on the proposed legislation. That period of discussion and deliberation has now expired, it is now appropriate that the Bill should progress to the next stage,” continued Mr Doorley.
The change could see over 4,600 Donegal teens voting in the next local and European elections (according to the 2016 census there were 2,276 16 year olds in Donegal, and 2,338 17 year olds).
Across Ireland, this could see a further 126,344 votes entering the ballot box.
“This issue has already been discussed at length since the NYCI first launched its “New Age in Voting” campaign in 2009: the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution held hearings and reported on this issue in 2010; following a commitment made in the 2011 Programme for Government, the matter was deliberated on by the Constitutional Convention in 2013; the Convention made a positive recommendation in favour of votes at 16; the then Government promised a referendum on the issue in 2015, then changed their mind. Therefore the current Bill – which does not require a referendum – was proposed,” said Mr Doorley.
“In recent weeks the Oireachtas has been celebrating the 100th anniversary of the “Representation of the People Act, 1918” which extended voting rights to women (over 30 years and with property of over £5) and all men over 21 for the first time.
“It would be very fitting for Seanad Éireann as part of the Vótáil 100 commemoration to extend the franchise to the over 126,000 young people aged 16 and 17 years so that they can have a say in electing their local councillors and European Parliament representatives.”
“The lesson from the last 150 years has been we have nothing to fear from electoral reform, in fact democracy has been strengthened and deepened when more citizens have a direct stake in electing public representatives.
“The Seanad has the opportunity to support electoral reform this Wednesday, we call on all Senators to grasp it,” concluded Mr Doorley.