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Michael Collins would've been too young to run for president. Welcome to #PresRef

Yes vote campaigners say that age is no measure of experience.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE VOTE ON lowering the presidential age limit is very much the poorer relation of the two votes Ireland is taking on 22 May.

While #MarRef has been dominating headlines, #PresRef barely gets a mention.

The timing and indeed the exact proposal have been questioned by those on both sides but Irish voters will nonetheless be delivering a verdict.

The proposal seeks to write into the constitution that every citizen aged 21 years or older has to right to be elected president. At present the age limit is 35.

Fine Gael are supporting the proposal while Labour are not adopting an official position. Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are both supporting it.

There is no active centralised campaign either way on the proposal but that doesn’t mean the issue isn’t being debated.

Future Voices Ireland is campaigning for a Yes vote with Mairead Healy telling The Last Word on Today FM on Thursday that, like the same-sex marriage referendum, this is an equality issue:

The same-sex referendum is about giving people equal rights and making people full citizens if they’re in same-sex relationships and it’s exactly the same when we’re talking about making young people have the full-rights as citizens.

Healy goes on to argue that, “just like any other job in the country”, a person’s CV is not judged by their age.

“At the end of the day who decides being 35 makes you suddenly and magically capable for political office,” she says.

The number of jobs you have on your CV is important but it’s not the be all and end all. What is actually important is life experience and the young people that I work with in Future Voices Ireland they could tell you a lot more about life experience than someone who’s sat in a cushioned role in the Dáil for 40 or 50 years.

PastedImage-21139 Mary McAleese was 46 when she was elected president. Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

He argument is echoed by Fine Gael member Jonathan Hoare who points out that the age limit to join the Irish Defence Forces is between 18-34, precisely the ages precluded from running for president.

He also points out that the current age limit would have prevented Michael Collins from running for president at the time of his death.

By the age of 32 Michael Collins was old enough to lead the armed struggle against the British, old enough to participate in the subsequent treaty negotiations in London, old enough to serve as Finance Minister and acting head of Government and old enough to die in uniform. Yet in the Ireland of today he would not be old enough to even stand in a presidential election, let alone be president.

On the other side of the argument, DCU lecturer and barrister Colum Kenny is advocating a No vote. Kenny argues that Presidency is seen as one the best performing branches of the Oireachtas and there is no need to change it.

“The office of president has served Ireland well and most citizens feel proud of the presidents to date,” he says.

It is a bad idea to change a system that is not broken. The Dáil and the Seanad, two institutions that have been widely criticised in recent times, are proposing to change the one political institution that has actually seen its stature enhanced with age.

Kenny makes a number of other arguments relating to the value of experience. He points to the instance in 1982 when President Hillery refused to take a telephone call from the Fianna Fáil opposition which sought to form a government after Garret FitzGerald’s coalition lost a budget vote.

“The President needs to be a seasoned individual with the authority and ability to resist the kind of pressure that Charles Haughey and Brian Lenihan brought to bear on President Patrick Hillery in 1982,” Kenny argues, adding that the proposal itself is unfair to young people.

“The proposal discriminates against 18-21 year olds, and the Government has offered no argument for this arbitrary distinction.”

For its part, Future Voices Ireland has addressed this issue saying it would be in favour of reducing the age limit further to 18.

Read: Why shouldn’t a young person be able to run for president? >

Read: What is the point of the upcoming referendum? (No, not the one you’re thinking of) > 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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