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Why shouldn't a young person be able to run for president?

Democracy is the vehicle with which we facilitate different perspectives; the youth of Ireland have a right to representation.

Glenn Fitzpatrick

IF YOU LANDED on Planet Earth just this morning and got yourself up to speed with everything happening in the public domain over the coming month, you would be forgiven for thinking that there was just one referendum taking place on May 22nd. We will indeed be asked a second question, aside from the one on civil marriage rights.

The question of reducing the minimum age for presidential candidates to 21 is an odd one. The timing is odd, the segregation of adults aged between 18-20 is odd and most people didn’t initially seem aware that there was a high age barrier to begin with. On top of all of that, the outcome of this referendum is unlikely to have any profound or immediate impact on Irish society, nor would reducing the term limits to five years, as has already been mooted.

Having said that, we are citizens in a democracy and we have been asked a question via a Constitutional Convention. It would be remiss of us not to provide an answer. We should not take lightly any conversation about the perimeters established within our constitution. The Constitutional Convention deemed this question appropriate. Given the perceived lack of participation in active citizenship for this age bracket, it looked to the highest office in the land as the best place to begin.

Casual and institutionalised ageism

Social media first facilitated discussion on this matter just last week when the hashtag ‘#BabyPresident’ appeared alongside the more formal ‘#PresRef’. What followed was an onslaught of what can only really be described as casual and institutionalised ageism.

Niall Horan’s perceived suitability for the role seems to have been cast upon an entire demographic. The general assertion was that this position of great significance is too important to leave to somebody under the age of 35. Once people had emptied the ‘lack of experience’ and ‘maturity’ arguments out of the tank, it became pretty clear that there was nothing else in there.

In actual fact, there doesn’t seem to be any other objection. I have heard the same objection to the campaign to reduce the voting age to 16. It is pure hypocrisy on the part of older generations to assert that young people are incapable of caring about politics and to then seek to deny us a platform. Interestingly, I have heard and seen this perspective just as much from people in the 18-34 age bracket. We have internalised these arguments about our own maturity and that worries me a bit.

What is the ‘right’ kind of experience? 

If the key argument against voting to reduce the age is based around notions of experience and maturity, then allow me to address a couple of flaws within it:

Citing a candidate’s perceived lack of experience is a reason in and of itself to vote against a candidate, not to deny eligibility. Furthermore, what constitutes the right kind of experience to one person might be totally different for everyone else. Democracy is the vehicle with which we facilitate different perspectives.

Secondly, most 18-34 year olds are law-abiding, taxpaying citizens who are eligible to vote in any given presidential election. The process of getting past councils and receiving support from members of the Oireachtas would still be in place. If somebody under the age of 35 can make it through that process then surely they are equally as deserving of a kicking from the electorate as Dana or Gay Mitchell.

Airing issues that affect the youth of Ireland

Realistically, it could be some time before we ever have a candidate for president who fits into that age bracket. At least if that time ever comes, the debating pedestal will have to lend itself at least in part to the airing of issues that affect the youth of Ireland. That would be welcome as it is ever how little the establishment thinks of its youth.

If you do value experience and maturity as characteristics in a president then you should vote YES in this referendum, so that you can vote against a candidate on that basis when the time comes. There are no 21-34 year olds on this ballot paper and whatever your assertions on the youth of Ireland are, there simply is no absolute way for anyone to know that there is nobody in that age bracket who couldn’t do the position justice.

Elections are supposed to provide us with choices. A YES vote in this referendum enhances democracy, if even only a small bit, as this is question of eligibility.

Glenn Fitzpatrick is USI Vice President for Campaigns. 

WATCH: Does anyone know what that ‘other’ referendum is about? We asked…

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Glenn Fitzpatrick

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