The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) – which represents organisations working with over 380,000 young people nationwide – has welcomed the Electoral (Amendment) Voting at 16 Bill 2016, to be debated in the Seanad this evening (29.03.17). The Bill, sponsored by Senators Warfield, Ruane and Mac Lochlainn, would see voting rights extended to young people aged 16 and 17 in Local and European Elections.
James Doorley, NYCI Deputy Director said: “NYCI welcomes and supports the Voting at 16 Bill. We have been campaigning for voting rights to be granted to 16 and 17 year olds since we launched our ‘New Age in Voting’ campaign in 2009, and today’s Bill is a positive step in the right direction. The Bill, if passed would allow up to 126,000 young people aged 16 and 17 to vote in the 2019 Local and European Elections.”*
Constitutional Convention voted in favour – promised referendum never materialised
NYCI campaigned for a change in the voting age in the lead up to the 2011 General Election and the Government at the time subsequently referred the matter to the Constitutional Convention. In 2013, the Constitutional Convention voted in favour of extending voting rights to 16 and 17 years olds.
However, as Mr Doorley explained: “Unfortunately, the Government failed to bring forward the promised referendum required to extend voting rights to young people aged 16 and 17 year olds in General and Presidential Elections and referenda. However, the extension of voting rights for local and European elections can be achieved by legislative change and this is what the Bill being debated today seeks to achieve in time for the 2019 Local and European elections.
“Our democracy is strengthened when participation is broadened, that is the lesson from the evolution of the electoral and democratic process. Voting rights were extended beyond landholders and property owners in the 19th Century, to women in the early 20th century and as recently as 1972 we extended voting rights to 18 to 20 year olds.”
Arguments used to disenfranchise women now being used against youth
“Many of these reforms were bitterly resisted at the time, indeed many of the arguments made against extending voting rights to women are the same as those presented against this proposal. The view that 16 and 17 year olds are not sufficiently informed, have no interest in voting or will be easily manipulated are as daft now as when they were when made in the early 20th century against giving the vote to women. This legislation not only will extend the franchise to 126,000 young people but will renew and refresh our democracy as previous reforms have done,” continued Mr Doorley.
The NYCI held a seminar on Votes at 16 last year with presentations on the positive impact of extending voting rights in Scotland. A representative from the Scottish Youth Parliament detailed that apart from the very high 75% turnout in the Scottish referendum among 16 and 17 year olds, many more young people were discussing politics with their peers and family, the level of participation of young people in local community life and politics has increased, and an increase in the number of young people studying politics at third level has also been seen.
Scotland: all political parties now support votes at 16
“NYCI accepts that some people have doubts, but the potential of this Bill – if passed – is that it allows those not fully convinced to see the positive impact of extending voting rights for the Local and European elections and if successful we can extend to all other elections by means of a referendum. That was the experience in Scotland, where initially some political parties were opposed, but following the high turnout and positive outcome, all political parties now support vote at 16 in Scotland,” added Mr Doorley.
Putting theory into practice
“Many politicians and commentators express concern about young people’s interest in and participation in politics and our democracy and we agree more must be done to address this. We welcome measures such as the introduction of ‘Politics and Society’ as a Leaving Certificate subject. It is positive that young people are learning about our society and democracy in the formal education system. However, as with learning how to drive a car, there is only so much you can get from reading or learning about it, the best way to learn to by doing. Therefore if the Seanad votes in favour of this legislation they will be facilitating young people not just to learn about democracy but to practice it,” concluded Mr Doorley.
NYCI is calling on all members of Seanad Eireann to support and vote for the Electoral (Amendment) (Voting at 16) Bill 2016. More information about the campaign can be found at www.voteat16.ie.
For further information, please contact Daniel Meister, Communications Manager at NYCI on 087 781 4903 or 01 425 5955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
*(Based on CSO projections http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Database/eirestat/Profile%202%20-%20Ages/Profile%202%20-%20Ages_statbank.asp?sp=Profile 2 – Ages&Planguage=0 )
Notes to Editors:
National Youth Council of Ireland
The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) is a membership-led umbrella organisation that represents and supports the interests of voluntary youth organisations and uses its collective experience to act on issues that impact on young people.