Last Thursday, Independent TD Thomas Pringle introduced a Private Members Bill calling for a referendum to amend the constitution to lower the voting age to sixteen. The bill was introduced by Pringle to coincide with the Scottish Welsh elections allowing sixteen and seventeen year olds to vote.
Lowering the voting age has been a contentious issue for many years and this bill is only the latest development. The public debate on the topic has ebbed and flowed but has intensified with the greater amount of youth engagement in recent referenda. Lowering the voting age has been welcomed by many who believe that young people are now more informed than ever but others believe that it will infringe on childhood and that the idealism of many young people may be exploited.
Thomas Pringle is an independent TD from Donegal who was elected to the Dáil for the first time in 2011. He served in the Donegal County Council from 1999 to 2011. His passionate and often humorous approach to the Dáil speech has gained him the attention of social media and of young people.
The Bill is very simple and straightforward: to put forward a referendum to the Irish people with the simple question to amend the article 16 of the constitution to lower the eligibility vote in Dáil elections from eighteen to sixteen. If this referendum was passed, people would be allowed to register to vote at the age of sixteen, and this would allow them to vote in all elections and referenda.
Pringle said in a statement that this Bill will give young people a voice. He said in a statement; “Even before the pandemic, we had seen the mass mobilisation of students around the world calling for action on climate change. Global inaction on climate change and their fear for the future of the planet, their futures, has mobilised young voices and it is inspiring to see. Reducing the voting age to 16 will enable schools to play a part in registering students. This should be in tandem with political education and should take place in all secondary schools, linking with local youth groups for those who may have left school at 16.”
The Irish Second Level Students Union (ISSU) has championed the cause for many years and welcomed the introduction of the Bill. The union said in a statement; “The Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) fully supports the legislative moves to lower the voting age to sixteen introduced in recent weeks. The ISSU has been at the forefront of campaigning and lobbying on the reduction of the voting age for a number of years. We strongly urge all political parties and members of the Oireachtas to vote for any measure that would allow sixteen and seventeen year olds to participate in democracy.”
The union also called for or more engagement across the political spectrum on this issue; “We do, however, want to see more concrete action taken by all political representatives to endorse this measure.
In the 2020 general election campaign, the current Taoiseach Micheál Martin indicted his support for lowering the voting age. While on the campaign trail in Kerry for now Education Minister Norma Foley, he was asked by a Transition Year student about encouraging more young people to vote. He responded; “Personally, I would reduce the voting age to 16.”
Ireland’s voting age is in line with most countries around the world, the legal voting age is sixteen in a small number of countries including Nicaragua, Scotland, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Cuba, Brazil, and Austria.
The introduction of this bill may reignite the public conversation on this issue and increase political dialogue on the issue. Despite this, the bill has just entered the second stage and there are a number of referenda already on the cards that have been delayed by the pandemic.