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Give 16-year-olds the vote? TDs are set to debate a motion calling for a referendum on the move

Thomas Pringle TD, who initiated the bill, says he would like to see the referendum held alongside the local and European elections in 2024.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

TDS WILL THIS evening debate a bill proposing a referendum on reducing the voting age to 16.

Thomas Pringle, the independent TD who initiated the bill, says he would like to see the referendum held alongside the local and European elections in 2024.

Pringle says that timeline is very much workable “if there was a political will there to make it happen”, but he concedes that the bill is unlikely to win government support.

The Donegal TD told The Journal that “the parties that have the most to lose from it will be Fianna Fail and Fine Gael”, since polling consistently shows that support for these parties is lowest among young people.

face mask 07 Donegal independent TD Thomas Pringle initiated the bill Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

“I don’t think the government will accept the legislation – they’ll allow it to go to committee stage and hope that it dies there.”

If the franchise for local elections only was extended to 16 and 17 year olds, a referendum would not be necessary, as those elections are not governed by the constitution. But Pringle believes “if we’re going to do it, we may as well do the whole lot and make sure that people can vote and all elections”.

He said one avenue to reducing the voting age was to extend the franchise for local elections first, followed by a referendum on reducing it for general elections.

But Pringle is of the view that “that’s too long to wait”.

If passed by referendum, lowering the voting age would extend the franchise to 130,000 people in Ireland.

Pringle points out that several jurisdictions in Europe already allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote: Scotland allowed it on a once-off basis for the 2014 independence referendum, and then lowered the voting age for Scottish parliament elections in 2015.

In Wales, people aged 14 and 15 can register to vote, and 16 and 17 year olds can now vote in Welsh parliament elections and local elections.

A number of EU countries also allow voting at 16 for European elections.

His bill proposes lowering the voting age for all elections – Dáil, presidential, European and local government – as well as referendums.

Pringle say he believes the issues affecting young people are often overlooked in politics because parties aren’t chasing votes in that age group.

He dismissed the idea that young people might not take voting seriously: “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?

“The first time you vote, you will continue to vote … that’s I think that’s very important in terms of the democratic system.”

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The bill, he says, represents “an opportunity for the political system to respond to the needs of young people.

“We could work towards having a referendum on the day of local and European elections, which is two years from now.”

The extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds was recommended by the Constitutional Convention in 2013, and in 2015 the European Parliament endorsed a report calling for the voting age for European elections to be set at 16.

Furthermore, some 80% of participants in the Citizen’s Assembly in 2018 voted to set the voting age at 16 to enhance voter turnout in referendums.

The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) has welcomed the bill, saying young people “have a stake and want a say in our democracy”.

NYCI Director of Policy and Advocacy Paul Gordon said: “Currently those aged 16 and 17 can leave school, seek full-time employment, be liable for tax, and join the youth sections of political parties, but cannot vote.

“We’ve seen the franchise successfully extended to 16 and 17 year olds in other jurisdictions including Austria, Scotland and Malta with positive results.

NYCI believes that the earlier young people engage in politics, the greater the chance that they will sustain a lifelong commitment to voting and participation in the democratic process.

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