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Column Why I should be allowed to vote at 17

I will inherit the actions of the electorate’s decisions for decades to come, so why shouldn’t I be able to influence government policy too, asks Adam Houlihan.

The Constitutional Convention recently voted in favour of lowering the voting age. At its meeting in Dublin, 52 per cent of delegates voted in favour of lowering the voting age. Of these, 48 per cent were in favour of lowering the age to 16 with 39 per cent selecting 17. Adam Houlihan believes he should be allowed vote at 17. Here, he explains why:

AS A YOUNG person in Ireland today, I believe the voting age should be lowered to 17 so I can have a say in how my country is run. As a student taking the Leaving Certificate exam next year, the influence that government policy has on my current life and on my future life is huge – but I have no say into how policy works.

Some people argue that at 17, my friends and I are incapable of making a mature, independent decision – but I see people my age making mature decisions and having responsible interactions with the State on many levels every single day.

Trusted to…

If I have been entrusted with many of the rights and responsibilities that people over 18 enjoy, surely it stands to reason that I deserve the right to vote? Let’s look at how the State treats me now: next year I will sit my Leaving Certificate, a State exam, and hopefully go on to university, which I am allowed to attend while aged 17. I work on the weekends, making a financial contribution to the State through taxation, which I am legally entitled to do since I was 16. The State recognises that I am mature enough to drive a car, entrusting me with my safety and that of others and the age of sexual consent is 17. I can also make independent medical decisions at this age. I was at the train station recently and when I asked for a child’s ticket, I was told I would have to buy an adult’s ticket as I am over 16.

However, some people will say that young people have no interest in current affairs or politics and, hence, are not informed enough to vote. This is a moot point, applying a burden of proof not extended to all voters – after all, do adults have to prove they are informed? Of course not. Nor should they have to, because democracy is not about being a member of a so-called “informed” group, but about being a member of society, a citizen.

It is each citizen’s civic duty to investigate where they stand and to assess which candidate best represents their views, at their discretion. It is universally true –  for young people and adults alike –  if an individual has the cognitive ability to decide for themselves about how to vote, then they also have the ability to choose how informed they want to be.

Youth engagement

We live in a time when voter apathy is rife, broadly speaking, across every demographic in this country – with the sole exception of older people in Ireland. In North African and Middle Eastern countries where the Arab Spring is in progress, an astonishing estimated 90,000 people have died for the right to self-governance. In the US Presidential Election last November, people lined up for six hours in Florida and in Idaho, ballots had to be photocopied just people could have their say in how their country is run.

It is embarrassing then, and even demoralising, to assess the recent Children’s Rights Referendum where voter turnout was as low as 33.53 per cent, the third lowest turnout in Irish referendum history. This shows that we seriously need to act, to engage people young and old with the system of government.

Looking to the sole demographic with high voter turnout, older people; how do we replicate that behaviour in younger people? Evidence has shown that a person is much more likely to vote for life, if they start at a young age, so that is one consideration. If Irish young people are introduced to voting sooner, while they are still in the structured school environment taking certain behaviour as norms on board for later life, we could see an increase of regular voters in the long run. Hence, lowering the voting age to 17 could be an effective step towards re-engaging people with the political system.

It is the youth of society, at any given time, who will inherit the actions of the electorate’s decisions for decades to come. We will have to drink the water, pay for the pension funds and live with the infrastructure handed down to us from governments elected by the franchised today. It is essential, therefore, that we give the opportunity to have the voices heard of all capable citizens. Maybe, if politics was forced to address the concerns of younger people by extending the franchise, we might also find that the policies being considered would be different in themselves.

But, then, I’m not 18… so does my opinion really matter?

Adam Houlihan is a member of West Waterford Young Fine Gael and will be taking his Leaving Certificate exams next year.

Read: Convention votes to lower voting age, rejects reduction of presidential term>

Read: Sinn Féin and Greens call for lowering of voting age>

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