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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 Jul 1972

Vol. 262 No. 5

Committee on Finance. - An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1972: An Dara Céim. Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1972: Second Stage.


Go léifear an Bille an Dara Uair.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Cúis áthais dom an Bille seo a thabhairt ós chomhair na Dála. Sé an cuspóir atá leis ná ceart vótála a thabhairt do ghach saoránach a bhfuil ocht mbliana déag slán aige. Má ritheann Dáil Éireann agus Seanad Éireann an Bille roimh saoire an tsamhraidh, agus tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh siad amhlaidh, beartaíonn an Rialtas an tairiscint a chur faoi bhráid na ndaoine ag reifreann a tionólfar i rith an fhómhair. Táim cinnte go gcuirfidh Teachtaí fáilte roimh an mBille agus is léir ón méid atá ráite cheana ag Teachtaí ó gach pháirtí go bhfuil muid go léir ar aonghuth faoin gceist seo. Tá gach cosúlacht ann, freisin, go mbeidh formhór na ndaoine den aigne chéanna.

The Constitution confers on every citizen who has reached the age of 21 years the right to vote at Dáil and Presidential elections and referenda. This Bill proposes to amend the Constitution by reducing the voting age to 18 years. Introduction of this Bill represents the first step in the process by which the wishes of the people in relation to the voting age will be ascertained. If both Houses of the Oireachtas see fit to pass the Bill before the summer recess, the issue will be put to the people at a referendum in the autumn. It is my sincere hope that the people will approve of the proposal and indeed, I have every confidence that they will do so.

The Bill is a very simple one, consisting basically of a single section. It provides for the amendment of Article 16.1.2º of the Constitution by the substitution of "eighteen years" for "twenty-one years". This Article deals with elections to Dáil Éireann but because the Constitution indicates that every Dáil elector has the right to vote at an election for President and at a referendum, the amendment will reduce the age for Presidential elections and referenda as well as for Dáil elections.

If the people at the referendum enact this Constitution Amendment Bill, it will be necessary to introduce a short Bill to make the necessary consequential changes in the electoral law. Deputies will recall that an undertaking was given in this House that the voting age for local government elections would also be dealt with in that Bill. I can assure the House that this commitment will be honoured.

It is not necessary for me at this stage to advance arguments in favour of lowering the voting age. These have already been put very ably and convincingly by Deputies on all sides of the House. This is one question on which we are all agreed and I would ask Deputies to unite in urging the people to come out and vote in favour of this worthwhile proposal on referendum day.

This is a small Bill but it is important and, indeed, historical because it proposes to widen the parliamentary franchise which has remained unaltered since the early days of this State.

I recommend the Bill to the House.

(Cavan): I welcome this Bill in so far as it goes. This party are entitled to welcome the Bill because it has been introduced as a result of calls made by this party from time to time that the younger people should be involved in our parliamentary democracy.

The Deputy might give us a wee bit of the credit, a few crumbs.

(Cavan): It is true to say that Deputy O'Donovan's party did come in subsequently and did take up the trail.

No. It was in our last election programme.

(Cavan): If the Deputy would let me say another few sentences——

If there is credit going, the only person genuinely entitled to credit is the Minister who brought in the Bill.

Let us hear the contribution from the Deputy in possession.

(Cavan): As I was saying, this party feel entitled to welcome the Bill because it is as a result of a campaign commenced by this party several years ago calling for the involvement of the younger people in our Parliamentary democracy that consideration was given to the proposal, consideration which has now ended with the introduction of this Bill. For the benefit of Deputy O'Donovan I might point out that at the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis in 1965 a resolution was passed calling for an alteration in the electoral laws so that persons who had reached the age of 18 would be given the vote.

Deputy O'Donovan has just claimed that it was part of the Labour Party's policy at the last general election that the voting age should be 18. I agree with that but I do not think that Deputy O'Donovan will quarrel with me if I claim the right to put it on the record of the House that the trail was blazed at the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis in 1965.

I think the Minister was fairer when he said that these arguments had already been put very ably and convincingly by Deputies on all sides of the House. I do not often give the Minister a pat on the back but for once he is entitled to it.

(Cavan): Indeed, it is not the first time that policies initiated by the Fine Gael Party have subsequently been taken up by the Government and enacted. As I say, it was at the 1965 Fine Gael Ard-Fheis that this matter was first mooted. It is correct to say that the matter was considered fairly fully by the Committee on the Constitution set up in 1967. That was two years subsequent to the Ard-Fheis. It is a fact that arguments were put forward then in favour of reducing the voting age to 18 years. The first argument was that, as a general proposition maturity in all matters was now reached at an earlier age. That must be accepted. It was also pointed out by members of the 1967 committee who supported the change that at 18 years of age persons could enlist in the Army, pay taxes, get married, and that it was inconsistent that they should not have the right to vote. Other arguments put forward in favour of the proposal that persons of 18 years of age be given the right to vote were that they would become more interested in the political affairs of the country and would become involved to a greater extent in the running of the country.

The Deputy is quoting the Minister back to the Minister.

(Cavan): I am quoting the Committee on the Constitution.

He was a member of that committee.

(Cavan): Of course, he was not the only member. There is nothing controversial about this. I am adopting a certain line here because I shall make a proposal later on. I am not rehashing the arguments for the sake of rehashing them. I would be obliged if the Minister would bear with me and let me follow the line that I want to follow.

Certain arguments were put up then against the proposed change, the major one of which is not now valid. The major argument then was that certain highly respected democracies still held that persons should be 21 years of age before being entitled to vote. That has all been changed. Since then, not alone has the Minister followed the advice of the Fine Gael Party, but the United States of America and Great Britain have also taken our advice and have reduce the age limit considerably.

The arguments that were valid in 1965 and 1967 about young people maturing at an earlier age are infinitely more valid now because in the five years since 1967 there has been a complete transformation in the approach towards youth and, indeed, in the approach of youth to the community in general and to the world in general. In the last five years youth has claimed the right to emancipate itself and has made its thinking felt in many walks of life. Not alone has youth moved in that direction but the community has recognised youth.

We now find students taking their places on the governing bodies, the controlling bodies, the administrative councils, of universities and I read recently that in some of the councils of Maynooth College students are now being given a say, a seat, and are playing their part in the administration of the college. That in itself would appear to me to demonstrate that things have moved very quickly, that there has been a complete change both in the approach of youth to the affairs of nations and in the approach of communities in general towards youth. Therefore, I say this Bill is several years overdue.

It is also desirable, as I pointed out on a previous occasion, that teenagers should be given a say in the election of a parliament and the formation of a government because unless they are given a platform, unless there is communication between the establishment and young people, it is obvious that young people will resort to other means to put their points of view across and to have their voices heard. Unfortunately, in the age in which we are living we have too much of the protest, too much of the unlawful demonstration.

I believe this Bill is a move in the right direction and that it will provide a platform for youth or at least that it will involve young people of this country in the serious business of electing a parliament and of forming a government. Let us turn to the Constitution and see exactly what we are doing in this Bill and what we are leaving undone. Article 16 (1) lays down that every citizen without distinction of sex who has reached the age of 21 years and who is not placed under disability or incapacity by the Constitution or by law shall be eligible for membership of Dáil Éireann. Article 16 (2) states:

Every citizen without distinction of sex who has reached the age of twenty-one years who is not disqualified by law and complies with the provisions of the law relating to the election of members of Dáil Éireann, shall have the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann.

It is the latter sub-clause we are altering. We are proposing to change the law so that the age limit of 21 set down in that sub-clause of Article 16 shall be reduced to 18 years. This means, in effect, that when the law has been changed a person of 18 years will be entitled to vote, but we are leaving sub-clause (1) stand which means that although a person of 18 years will be entitled to vote, he will not be entitled to offer himself for election to this House or to take a seat in this House.

I think we have reached the stage when we should go the whole hog and amend sub-clause (1) of Article 16 as well as the second sub-clause and confer on all citizens of this country who have reached the age of 18 years the right to elect Members to this House and also to offer themselves for election and to take seats in this House. In doing that we would be no more than consistent because if one refers to the Constitution one will see that the 1937 document was clearly consistent in prescribing the same qualifying age for the vote as for membership of the House, and although in some other countries there are different ages for qualifying for the vote and for membership of parliament, on the other hand there are countries where people are entitled to vote at a lower age than 21 and to take their seat at the same age.

One country is Switzerland, a country regarded as stable with a stable government, a highly respected nation. I do not know for how long, but there citizens are entitled to vote and to sit in parliament at 20 years of age. As we know, a great many other countries up to the present—Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Great Britain, Finland, Norway—have the qualifying age for voting at 21 and the taking of a seat in parliament at 21. The point I want to put across is that in the great majority of countries at the present time the qualifying age for voting and for membership is 21 years.

I think I heard the Deputy mention Great Britain in relation to votes at 21.

(Cavan): I know the age has been reduced there.

They only reduced the voting age but not the age for membership of parliament.

(Cavan): I know that since the information I have been giving was published there have been changes and that some countries, notably Great Britain, have reduced the voting age but have not reduced the age for membership of parliament. Up to a short time ago, like ourselves, they had a similar age for voting and for taking a seat in parliament, and that age was 21 years. Why we have to wait until other countries make a change I do not know. We on this side were advocating in 1965 that the voting age should be reduced to 18 years but the Government did nothing about it until they got the example from Great Britain and, perhaps, the US.

They do not have to have legislation for it anyway.

(Cavan): That is an argument into which it is not necessary to go now.

They could do it just by order.

(Cavan): The Government here are taking exactly the same step as has been taken across the water, and not one step further. I believe we should lead the way. Indeed, we should follow the example of Switzerland and a number of other countries and give the right to sit in parliament at the same age as the right to vote. I cannot see anything inconsistent in that. On the contrary, I can see a great deal of consistency in it. It does not seem to be consistent to say that, while a person shall have the right to exercise the franchise, he shall not have the right to become a member of parliament. If he is entitled to play the one role, then he should be equally entitled to play the other. If the Minister does some research he will find that there are quite a few countries in which there is one age for voting and another age for membership of parliament; he will also find that there are quite a few countries where the voting age is lower than 21 and the sitting age is also lower than 21.

We should be progressive. If we do as I suggest, I believe we will encourage young people to become actively involved in politics, in the art of government and in the democratic institutions of the State. Every argument that can be put forward in favour of reducing the voting age can be put forward with equal force in favour of reducing the qualifying age for sitting in parliament. This may appear to some a startling departure; it is no such thing and there is no likelihood of these benches being occupied by large numbers of people under the age of 21. That is not likely to happen. There will be a cross-section of the entire electorate. The important thing is that those who have the right to vote should also have the right to offer themselves for election.

The Minister's proposal will confer the vote on something in the region of 140,000 extra people. That is the best estimate I can get. It will increase the Dublin city electorate by something like 9½ per cent and the electorate in the rest of the country by something like 11 per cent. This vote will be spread all over the country. It will not be concentrated in any particular constituencies. There is no likelihood, therefore, of our getting what some might consider a completely immature assembly. There will be a cross-section. The argument that a person of 18 pays taxes, enlists in the Army or gets married has been used in favour of reducing the voting age; it can be used with equal force in favour of reducing the age for entry to this House. A very simple amendment would achieve what I want. All the Minister need do is write into subsection (1) "eighteen years shall be substituted in subsections (1) and (2)" of the text. That will achieve what I want to do.

The time has passed when we should blindly follow the lead of our immediate neighbour and we should make up our minds on the advisability of changing the law and, if we come to the conclusion that it should be changed, we should change it in a way that is in the best interests of this country. I believe the legal majority age will soon be reduced. At the moment a person is not legally regarded as being of full age until he reaches 21. It would be interesting to know when that magic age was fixed. It was probably hundreds of years ago. The Minister for Justice at the time, Deputy B. Lenihan, when introducing a Bill dealing with the right to make wills some years ago, certainly considered reducing the age for making a will to 18, but I do not think he did anything about it. The trend at the moment is towards reducing this magic age of 21 as a qualifying age in many respects. A man under 21 years of age, who meets with a serious road accident, has to sue in his father's name or he must have a next friend. There is no obligation on the next friend to support his wife and family, if he happens to be married. If he wins damages, the money must be lodged in court until he reaches the age of 21. I believe that in a few years time the age qualification will be reduced from 21 to 18 years.

In putting forward this proposal I am not advocating a radical change in the Constitution which would provide the parliament with 50 per cent or 75 per cent of its members in the 18 to 21 age group. For many years the qualifying age has been 21. Yet, it is news when Deputy Bruton is elected at 23 years of age. To those more conservative people who think that there would be a risk involved in electing people to this House who are between the ages of 18 and 21, I would say that there is no risk but that it is desirable that there be members of parliament in this age group. However, it is extremely unlikely that there will be an appreciable number of persons within this age group in the House for some considerable time yet. I would ask the Minister to do some research for the purpose of ascertaining how many people between the ages of 21 and 25 have been elected to this House during the past 50 years. He would find that the number was small. The Minister may say that if that is the case there is no necessity for a change because it would not be availed of. I would say that he would be wrong there too. My purpose in putting forward this proposal is to give to young people who, as everybody knows, are maturing at an earlier age now than in the past, a sense of responsibility, to let them know that they are treated as mature people and to encourage them to play a part in the democratic machinery for electing representatives to this House. This, then, is a sound amendment.

I am convinced that it will be only a short time until the age for legal maturity will be reduced from 21 to 18. It is high time that we stopped taking sections of Acts of Parliament from the parliaments of other countries and began thinking for ourselves. We should make up our own minds on the merits of changes such as the one proposed here and we should do so in the light of conditions prevailing in this country.

I propose on Committee Stage of the Bill to table an amendment on the lines I have indicated by including subsection (1) of section 1 of Article 16. I welcome the Bill in so far as it goes but it is a few years overdue. It is in line entirely with Fine Gael policy but I hope the Minister will give serious consideration to the point I have raised.

On behalf of the Labour Party I welcome the change proposed in this Bill. It will bring this country into line with the minimum voting age at parliamentary elections now in operation in Northern Ireland, in the UK, in Germany and in Luxembourg. I am pleased in particular that it will bring about a uniformity in the parliamentary franchise minimum voting age in both parts of this country. We expect our young people to join the Army at 18 years of age and to risk their lives for the security of the State. People of that age may be sent to prison for breaking the law. A young man or woman may be paying their full share of income tax at 18 and also their full share of social insurance. They may purchase intoxicating liquor. They may drive cars. Many people at that age are already married and there are many thousands of Irish women who, at 19 or 20 are rearing children. Yet, we do not give these people the simple democratic privilege of voting in an election. There are very many other obvious reasons why this measure should obtain widespread national support.

If, for example, young people are considered old enough to look after the aged and the sick in our community, they should certainly be entitled to vote. Also, if they are old enough at 18 to undergo training as airline pilots, surely they are old enough to vote in parliamentary elections. I would point out to the House that in practice the 140,000 young citizens who will be put on the national voting register as a result of this measure will, on average, be about 20 years of age before they exercise the right to vote. I recall that I was more than 23 years of age before I voted in a general election. Only a small number would be voting at the age of 18 or 19.

It is important that the people of the country as a whole should appreciate the feudalistic background to the decision arrived at originally to permit parliamentary votes at 18 years of age. That was laid down originally as far back as 1696. It was in section 7 of the Parliamentary Election of Members Act of that year. It is rather a poor reflection on our society that it has taken until 1972 to change that Act. It was laid down that no person under the age of 21 would be allowed to vote in a parliamentary election. The age of 21 seems to have been based on an old Anglo-Saxon system whereby a young merchant's son became of age as soon as he could count properly; a peasant's son became of age as soon as he was 15 and the son of a knight became of age at 21. By all accounts, that is how the age of 21 was decided on for parliamentary elections.

There are not many sons of knights in this House at present or on the parliamentary register and in that context it is overdue that we should change the legislation. It is also undeniable that young people today mature at a much earlier age. Their incomes are increasing rapidly and their increased spending power has given them a much greater responsibility in the community. I think it is also true that young people now, with what one might call the educational emancipation which has occurred in the past few decades, are showing much greater awareness and interest in public affairs, in political affairs and in Dáil Éireann itself. It is, therefore, eminently fair that they should be given the democratic means to express their particular interest.

I suggest that the 18-21 population group is subject to greater pressures than any other in our community and no segment of our population is more uncertain about its domestic, financial, legal and political status. This is universally true. The community at large are continually exhorting the 18-21 age group towards responsibility and encouraging them to take the fullest possible advantage of higher educational opportunities. Simultaneously, they are being coaxed, cajoled, blackmailed by the commercial world now only too well aware of the enormous purchasing power of this age group. In many ways, and rather superficially, other sections of the community and other age groups frequently attack the 18-21 age group because it allegedly fails to live up to the conventional norms of behaviour and adult attitudes. We expect a great deal more from our young people than ever before and, if so, we should place responsibility on them in the form of parliamentary franchise.

Unless this is done willingly and openly by the community at large in a referendum in October—and I hope every adult citizen will vote in that referendum—the genuine eagerness and concern of young people in respect of political issues could very easily be frustrated, lacking the means of self-expression socially and electorally, and this could induce cynicism and distrust among young people. Our society has brought about a great change in the social consciousness of young people particularly through educational emancipation. The next stage is political emancipation of young people and it is right that we should give this ultimate recognition to their new status and give them the opportunity to choose their own leaders and initiate control over their own affairs.

I am sure we now see the anomaly in our parliamentary structure whereby a person aged 18 will have the right to vote in parliamentary elections but cannot become a Deputy or Senator or local councillor until he or she is 21 years of age and cannot stand for the Presidency until the age of 35 years. We have rather different age groups of political responsibility. Our party is at present considering the position in relation to this Bill as to whether we should put down an amendment to enable young people to become local councillors at the age of 18, and stand as candidates for the Dáil and Seanad also at that age. We should consider this matter in the light of the anomalies I have pointed out.

Many people seem to assume rather superficially that because we have votes at 18 automatically we shall have a large body of young radical, utterly progressive persons either entering Leinster House or voting in the constituencies. There is a great deal of fresh political idealism in young persons but it is also true that many, in fact, do not vote in parliamentary elections. This has been shown in the UK elections. Young people are very mobile and although on the register may not necessarily vote and a high proportion of them do not. It is also true, and it has been shown to be particularly true in Britain, that many, notwithstanding the alleged progressiveness, vote in accordance with family patterns, and vote as their parents voted. I state these reservations but we welcome the fact that we shall have an extra 3,000 to 4,000 electors in the three or four seat constituencies or an increase in these constituencies of from 5 per cent to 7 per cent on the register.

Finally, I urge that there should be further consideration by the House of the amendments urgently required in parallel legislation. In Britain, not only was the parliamentary franchise introduced at 18 but they also brought in the Family Law Reform Act, 1970. It is a bit ironic that we give votes at 18 and, at the same time, if a person wants to sue for damages arising out of a car accident he must sue through his father. There is the question of the entitlement of a person between 18 and 21 to take out a house mortgage. There is the question of owning a house at 18. If you give people the parliamentary franchise, why should they not be in a position to own a house? Should they not have the right to give jury service, to enter into contract with the growth of hire purchase et cetera? Surely it is ridiculous that a person can vote at 18 and yet cannot make a will? Many people between 18 and 21 are married. Should they not have the right to have a passport? These are matters which should be the subject of extensive family law reform legislation which I hope will go through this House in the near future.

I hope this Bill will get a speedy passage through the Dáil and Seanad and that we will have the referendum in September/October. I hope the new electoral register for 1973-74 will contain the 140,000 new parliamentary citizens. I extend a welcome to them and a welcome to this Bill.

I should like to place on the records of the House the fact that the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and the whole structure of the Fianna Fáil national movement is behind this Bill. It has received extensive discussion throughout the length and breadth of our land and at all levels of our organisation— cumann, comhairle ceanntair, comhairle dáil cheanntair, national executive and right up to the parliamentary party. I want to assure the nation that we are whole heartedly behind this Bill. Here we have an opportunity of giving young people a stake in the community, giving them something to which they are entitled. One of the most important entitlements of any citizen is the franchise and the exercise thereof. If people are being asked to pay taxes at 18, and, indeed, younger, if they are being asked to take on the responsibility of marriage, if they are being asked to join the Army, the Garda, et cetera, then they should be granted this entitlement.

Deputy Desmond, who represents the same constituency as I do, said that the question of entitlement to stand for election as Teachta Dála at 18 should be included in the Bill. I would urge him to take the view that we should go to the country on a single issue and that issue should not be confused with other matters of the nature he suggested. I agree that there is a certain anomaly in the concept of votes at 18 and young people not being entitled to seek election at that age. However, my information is that in all other parliaments the general view is taken that people should have votes at 18 but not the opportunity to seek election. I do not accept that this is a good precedent. I think we must make our own rules.

(Cavan): The Parliamentary Secretary will find precedents in support of either argument.

Yes, but I think the general preponderance is against seeking election under 21. That is not a good argument. If we want to introduce our own laws, we do not have to go to other countries to look for precedents. The Supreme Court in this country has done away with the whole concept of precedent and has introduced a concept of stare decisis which is a very good thing. We should not be bound by other countries. On this issue, I should like to go to the country on a single non-confusable issue.

(Cavan): The Parliamentary Secretary has a precedent in 1968 when there were two issues.

This is why we lost it.

(Cavan): You lost it consistently on the double.

I am just making the point that I would like it to be a clear-cut issue. It is an important issue from the point of view of the 100,000 people who will come on the electoral roll if this is passed. We as Deputies will not be entitled to vote in the Dáil on this. It is the people who will decide this. I would urge those who believe people should have a vote at 18 to come out and lend their support to the political parties. This involves a commitment. I would strongly urge those who support this Bill to align themselves with the political parties. They may not be in favour of a particular political party but on this issue the three main political parties will be at one. The young people should get out and show that they are as anxious for the vote for themselves as we are to give it to them.

Only two months ago I had the pleasure of seeing the Wisconsin Primary where Hubert Humphrey was unexpectedly beaten by Senator George McGovern. Having been with the campaign for almost a week in the Humphrey camp, on the one hand, and in the McGovern camp on the other, it was absolutely thrilling to see the thousands of young people who followed the McGovern camp. This has now turned into a landslide. It was wonderful to see people between the ages of 14 and 25, maybe 30, out and about knocking at doors and so on. I would ask the young people of this country to give the same commitment to this proposal and to urge people to support them. I just introduced the Wisconsin primary as an aside because it was the beginning of the McGovern landslide towards the democratic convention.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary backing him?

I am not. I saw a couple of American visitors in the gallery and I do not want in any way to show my allegiance outside the area of Irish politics.

We have no objection to showing our allegiance.

I am, of course, neutral, publicly, in relation to the politics of America. I may not be neutral publicly in relation to other politics. The Americans are a very good people. They are a great nation. I just mentioned the wonderful commitment of young people particularly to the McGovern camp in the Wisconsin primary. It was interesting to note the difference between the support Hubert Humphrey had and that which George McGovern had in that context. Senator Humphrey had not got young people supporting him in his election drive to any great extent. As I say, this was the beginning of the McGovern drive towards what we assume will be his election at the democratic convention in Miami next week. However, maybe Mr. Daly, the Mayor of Chicago, may have something to say about that. I am not entering into the arena of American politics.

Do you think he will clobber the young people again?

I enjoyed the American hospitality. I enjoyed being in Chicago and I enjoyed the hospitality of the people of Chicago. They certainly have supported Mayor Daly over the years so he must have something.

As a representative of a conservative party you would have done well.

I would not consider Fianna Fáil to be a conservative party. I think it is one of the most radical political parties that we have ever had.

I thought you would rise to the bait.

I am just saying in as calm a fashion as possible that we are a radical party to say the very least of of it and not made up of a conglomeration of so-called socialists.

It used to be a long time ago in the early 1930s.

It still is but we have to adjust our cloth according to our measure. In the early 1930s there was one situation. We are living in a different era now and this is another reason why we should support votes at 18. I do not intend in any way to be critical of those times. On the contrary, those people made a tremendous contribution. People are more emancipated nowadays. The important thing is to give these young people a stake in society. The final stake, as I see it, is the exercise of the franchise, to say what government they will have or what government they will not have. If they do that, they will be doing a good job for themselves and for the country generally.

I agree that young people can be impatient of the wisdom of the old but that is reasonable. Young people are inclined to go through rather than around a situation sometimes to the detriment of the final conclusion which they seek. This is another aspect of the problem of the impatience of the young about which I have been speaking. My main reason for speaking very briefly so as to let the Minister in, I hope, is that the Fianna Fáil national movement is totally behind the idea of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.

(Cavan): At last.

No, we have always been.

(Cavan): Long threatening comes at last.

We have always been. It has been represented for the purpose of political advantage that we have not been in favour of this proposition. We have always been in favour of this proposition.

(Cavan): You did nothing about it until it was dragged out of you.

The acid test is whether you will have a general election before those people go on the register.

I have not decided when we will have a general election but the Deputy will be the first to know I can assure him. Let me put it on the record of the House that Fianna Fáil have always been in favour of this proposition. I hope that the people, on whatever date they are asked to decide the issue, will decide in favour of votes at 18.

(Cavan): At last.

I did not intend to speak at all but I will just say a few words now. I agree with Deputy Fitzpatrick's "at last". This is quite true. There has been an infinity of talk about this matter by the Fianna Fáil Party. I believe that were it not for the discussion on the Local Elections Bill the other day we would not have this Bill before us now. We heard a lot of talk from the Minister. He was always in favour of it just as the Minister for Social Welfare is in favour of children's allowances but there will be no increase in children's allowances until the next election is looming.

It was announced before the Local Elections Bill.

The Government have announced so many things so often. Do you remember when they announced internment? We shot that down all right.

We did not announce it.

We shot it down at the end of 1970.

It was not announced.

It was announced.

It was not announced.

All right, it was suggested. The kite was flown. I have nothing against people flying kites. It is not a bad idea.

We suggested it in different circumstances but no decision was made.


(Cavan): It seems that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary do not agree.

I know that Deputy Fitzpatrick and Deputy Cosgrave do not see eye to eye with regard to the plebiscite on the Six Counties. The Minister and I do not agree on everything.

If this cross-talk would cease for a moment I should like to say a few words. I said on the Local Elections Bill, and I want to repeat it now, that it was grossly unfair to tax by way of income tax the young people of 17 and 18 years and not give them a vote. We all know that the American revolution was fought on the principle of no taxation without representation. As an example, let me cite the case of a young lad of 17 years. He had a very large income but could not assign portion of it because he was only 17 years. He was one of a family of 11 and the father's income was only about £12 a week. Anybody over 21 can assign some of his income but this young lad of 17 years could not assign any of it to a brother or sister so that he could get rid of this awful income tax liability which amounted to several hundred pounds a year. He should have been entitled to do this the same as any wealthy person is entitled to do it. This is an example of taxation without representation.

I hope that when the young people get the vote they will get the ordinary civil rights they should have had long ago. It is also true that our party made the most fuss about this. Deputy Fitzpatrick claimed that it was Fine Gael. It reminds me somewhat of Deputy Garret FitzGerald's suspicion of the Prisons Bill on which he made a long speech. His suspicion was just talk because when it came to voting on it he voted for it as did all the other members of the Fine Gael Party.

The Fine Gael Party in opposition is one thing. They are the progressive party but the minute they get into office all the progressiveness is sacrificed for the benefit of the property-owning classes. I will define it that way. The Government are very much in favour of the property-owning classes and we take it that the Government are not really in favour of people under 21 years of age.

There is, of course, a number among the anti-coalition group in the Labour Party included in that.

Deputy O'Donovan has his own ideas about government and they are very different from those of the Government. Let us leave it at that. I am certainly no fascist but there is a fascist element in both big parties. The Minister and his advisers are well aware that if we give votes at 18 years the vote will not be exercised by the bulk of people until they are 20 or 21 years of age. When votes were given in England at 21 years it was thought they were the flapper votes. Deputy Fitzpatrick mentioned Switzerland, a country in which you could become a member of parliament at 18. Switzerland was quoted as being one of the most progressive countries, yet it is only recently that women got the vote there.

(Cavan): I quoted it not as a country in favour of votes at 18 but as one in which the qualifying age for voting and for taking a seat, presumably in respect of males was 20.

The correction is not important. The Deputy was suggesting that it was a more progressive country than we were.

(Cavan): Is Deputy O'Donovan against conferring on people of 18 the right to sit in this House?

If Fine Gael intend to put down an amendment to that effect, I will certainly vote for it, because we will never get anybody into this House at 18 years of age except by accident in the way Miss Bernadette Devlin was elected to the British Parliament.

That is a very negative reason for voting for it.

There is a positive reason. People will not be on the register and able to vote normally until they are over 20 years of age. At the present time people do not vote until they are about 26 or 27 years of age. This is the essence of the case. Fianna Fáil have been compelled to introduce this Bill. They know as well as I do that most people did not get a vote until they were well into their 20s. The great majority of the newcomers on the register will be over 20 before they vote. Will anybody deny that?

If the Parliamentary Secretary wants to put his brain in a pot and put a lid on it I cannot stop him.

I do not like the Deputy's cuisine.

(Cavan): I often heard of pig's head. It is a well-known dish.

The Deputy knows that parliamentary elections occur approximately every four years. There is delay in getting people on the register. That has been dealt with by the present Government by making a register of the people who will be 21 years of age on 15th April. That reform was brought in by the present Government a few years ago. It was necessary, and credit is due to them. That will still not prevent people from having their first vote at 24 or 25 years of age. I hope that young people will come out and make the case for themselves if we implement this provision.

(Cavan): The majority will be even bigger than it was in the EEC referendum.

The Labour Party have not alone been vocal about this but have done everything we could to get this idea implemented. A few weeks ago we tried to get it implemented in connection with local elections. We may be wrongly suspicious of the Government. I welcome the Bill and, for once, I am all behind the Minister.

I would like to thank the House for the welcome given to the Bill. Several reasons why it is a good Bill have been enumerated, and why it is good to extend the franchise to people between the ages of 18 and 21 who are at present excluded from voting in elections. I do not wish to deal with the reasons again. They were dealt with by the 1967 Committee on the Constitution and on a number of other occasions in this House. They are good and valid reasons.

I have always strongly favoured the granting of the vote to persons of 18 years and upwards. I am privileged to be the Minister introducing this Bill. Efforts have been made by Fine Gael and Labour speakers to try to claim some credit for the introduction of this Bill. I wish to point out to the Deputies on the Opposition benches that, so far as I am concerned, I indicated my own feelings on this matter as far back as 2nd July, 1970, when I stated in the House that I was strongly in favour of granting the right to vote at 18. On 9th March, 1971, I formally announced that the Government were in favour of the age reduction. I fail to see how the debate last week on the Local Elections influenced the introduction of this Bill as Deputy O'Donovan tried to imply.

It put a little bit of fire under you.

One of the strongest reasons which influenced my thinking in regard to the reduction of the voting age from 21 to 18 was my personal experience as a TD in dealing with various constituency problems. I was impressed by the large number of young people under the age of 21 who were married and who, in many cases, had a child or even two children, and who were living in very bad housing conditions and paying exorbitant rents for that accommodation. These young people had a personal interest in decisions that local and central authorities made, especially in regard to housing. I felt it was strange that these people who were so dependent on the decisions of elected representatives on the local authorities and in the Dáil and Seanad did not have any say in the election of the people making decisions which would greatly affect their lives. They should have the right to go and cast their votes and decide on whom they wished to represent them on these bodies. There are many reasons why I would urge the people when the opportunity is presented to them—and it is expected to be in the autumn—to come out in large numbers and to give a satisfactory result to this referendum, an overwhelming majority in favour of the amendment.

Deputy T.J. Fitzpatrick of Cavan, speaking on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, made an effort to show how that party had in some way influenced the Government decision. The Deputy gave the impression that Fine Gael were always in favour of granting votes at 18. The Fine Gael Party participated with other parties in two coalition Governments, but they did not avail of these opportunities to introduce such a change in our Constitution and electoral laws. We will be able to judge Fine Gael sincerity in this matter at the time of the referendum when we can see for ourselves how they act in putting this question before the people. I have only to remind Deputy Fitzpatrick that they will certainly want to put up a better show than they did in the recent referendum, when they were very scarce on the ground——

(Cavan): That is very ungrateful.

They were scarce on the ground at the recent referendum. We did all the work in explaining the issue to the people. We went round the houses. The work was mostly left to the Fianna Fáil Party, even though the Fine Gael Party publicly said that they were in support of Ireland entering the EEC.


I hope they will display more vigour in the next referendum campaign than they did in the last one.

(Cavan): Did the Minister read the Taoiseach's words of thanks to the Fine Gael Party for the work they did?

I am not denying that they did some work.


(Cavan): You have lost every referendum you ever undertook on your own.

I am not denying that Fine Gael played a part but the part was so insignificant that I think the Taoiseach was over-generous in his expression of thanks to the Fine Gael Party.

(Cavan): If Deputy Neil Blaney had been taken out of Donegal Fianna Fáil would be in a nice mess.

It was a disgraceful display of lack of concern on the part of the Fine Gael Party about matters other than their own seats. If they were involved themselves they would have been out and active but when it was a national issue they were scant and scarce and played only a very small part in it. In fact in my area they were not to be seen at all. This was the message that came back from all over the country.

It was not so in south County Dublin.

On a point of order. Could we get back to votes at 18?


In matters such as this I would advise the Opposition parties to be very slow about claiming credit because it is very easy, as the Deputies opposite know, for Opposition parties to pass resolutions calling for various changes, but, of course, they do not have the responsibility of actually carrying out these changes.

(Cavan): Fianna Fáil are paper republicans, paper domocrats, but when it comes to doing anything about it they do damn all.

Deputy Fitzpatrick made a point at which I am rather surprised, but if I am misquoting him he can correct me. I think he said there was a complete transformation in the youth of Ireland, and went on to indicate what he meant by this, that now they were taking their place on the governing bodies in universities and in other such places of decision-making where they have not played a part before. He tried to give the impression that the youth were changing. I am surprised at that, because that is not the way I see the situation. I do not think it is the youth at all that have changed; it is the elders who have changed and who have given them this place. The youth have always shown that they were interested in national affairs. In nearly every revolution carried out throughout the world where major change has been brought about the youth have played a very important and vital part. We need only go back to the events in our own country in 1916 to see the part that youth played in it.

(Cavan): The Minister should not try to misrepresent me. I said exactly what the Minister has said, that the youth were exerting themselves and were being accepted by the community.

They are being allowed to play a fuller part by the elders in the community, which had been denied to them by people of Deputy Fitzpatrick's era.

There is no use in the Minister trying to put that across. We all know that young people are coming to maturity much sooner.

Previous generations had denied them the opportunity and we are giving it to them now. On this question of the age for membership of the House which Deputy Fitzpatrick has now introduced, I think it is significant that, although this question of the voting age has been discussed here on a number of occasions, not one Deputy until now has referred to it in any of the debates that have taken place. Again I doubt the sincerity of Deputy Fitzpatrick on this question of reducing the age for membership of Dáil Éireann. Is he speaking on behalf of the whole Fine Gael Party on this matter or, as I suspect, is he just throwing in a red herring to see what the Minister will do? He went on to try to make a case for this by quoting countries like Switzerland where he said the voting age was the same for sitting as a Deputy and for voting in the elections. Of course, the voting age there is 20.

(Cavan): I said that.

The Deputy did not say that at the time. It came out afterwards in answer to a question. We are proposing in this Bill to grant votes at 18 in Dáil and presidential elections and referenda, and we have indicated our intention to extend that to local authority elections if the referndum is carried by the people. In other words, we are prepared to implement the wishes of the people. If it is "Yes" to votes at 18 we shall also grant it for local elections. What I want to ask Deputy Fitzpatrick is: are the Fine Gael Party now asking that 18 year olds be given the right to stand as candidates in elections and to sit in the Dáil here as TDs? Is this the intention behind the suggestion made by Deputy Fitzpatrick?

(Cavan): Yes, clearly.

That 18 year olds should be allowed to take their seat in the Dáil as TDs?

If they can get elected.

I want to be quite clear on this. Deputy Fitzpatrick mentioned a number of countries rather rapidly and I did not get a chance to take them down. Could he tell me any other country where people at 18 are entitled to be elected and to sit in the House of Parliament?

(Cavan): There are several. In Switzerland it is 20.

At the age of 18?

(Cavan): The Minister should do his homework.

The Deputy mentioned the countries rather rapidly and I was wondering if any of those countries allowed people of 18 years to stand for election to Parliament.

(Cavan): I preferred to take Switzerland as a responsible example.

It is not at 18 in Switzerland.

(Cavan): I know. It is 20.

The question is: does the Deputy know of any country where the age is 18?

(Cavan): I said that running through all the precedents that I could find the sitting age and the voting age are the same. Deputy Andrews agreed with me. Is there any reason why we should go to the four corners of the earth looking for precedents? Have we no minds of our own? Let us hear the arguments against it in conditions prevailing here. As I said, there is far too much of going over to Great Britain when they pass an Act of Parliament, taking a section out of it—they do not even have to redraft it—and sticking it in here. It is good enough for us ten years after it has been done there.


I am surprised at Deputy Desmond saying "Hear, hear". A few moments ago the argument he was using was that because something was done in England we should do it here as well. Anyway my view on the matter is that the Bill, as presented to the House, seeks permission to hold a referendum allowing votes at 18, and that is as far as the Minister is going on this occasion.

As usual the Minister will accept no amendment.

Generally speaking, it is common practice to prescribe a higher age——

(Cavan): The Minister is waffling. He was taken by surprise.

(Cavan): Deputy Andrews agreed with these proposals. We should not be following slavishly what is done in other countries. The only argument Deputy Andrews put up against it was that we would be putting two proposals up at the same time, which of course we would not. We could have two ballot papers.

Even if the Minister had not been surprised he would not have accepted an amendment anyway.

An amendment would be out of order. The Chair would not allow any amendment to be put. It is not a matter for the Minister.

(Cavan): On a point of order.

There is nothing arising out of that.

(Cavan): As in 1968, there is nothing to prevent the Minister introducing another Bill and calling it the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. There is no use in trying to shelter behind the robes of the Chair in this matter.

The sole purpose of this Bill is to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18 years.

(Cavan): What is the objection to introducing another one, as was done in 1968?

That is a different matter.

On this question of the voting age and the age for election to parliament, it seems to be common practice to prescribe a higher age than the voting age for membership of parliaments throughout the world. I can give some examples to contradict the impression which Deputies tried to convey that I was surprised that this point was brought up at all. I have studied it on a number of occasions and I am quite satisfied that what we are doing is right: to introduce a Bill on voting only. In the UK, where the voting age is 18 years, they did not reduce the age for membership of parliament to 18 years, as the Deputy suggested.

(Cavan): We are bound by that principle?

We are not bound by it. I am just telling the Deputy. They left it at 21 years. I want to get this on the record, and I will get it on the record even if I am interrupted. In the UK the age for voting is 18 years, and the age for membership of parliament is 21 years. In France it is 21 years for voting, and 23 for membership of parliament. In the Federal Republic of Germany it is 18 years for voting, and 21 years for membership of parliament. In Denmark it is 20 years for voting and 21 years for membership of parliament. In the United States it is 18 years for voting, and 25 years for membership of the House of Representatives and 30 years for membership of the Senate. In Italy you can vote at 21 years and over, but you cannot be a member of parliament unless you are 25 years or over. In Sweden you cannot vote unless you are 21 years, and you cannot be a member of parliament unless you are 25 years.

(Cavan): The Minister is quoting from books published in 1966 which he had brought into the House since I raised the matter.

That is certainly not true and my figures are up to date.

He begrudges the young people. He brought in the Bill because the pressure was too great.

When was that book printed?

(Cavan): Is the Minister aware that the Council of Europe are now considering reducing the age of legal majority to 18 years?

I will deal with the European Parliament in a moment.

The Deputy says my figures are out of date, but they certainly are not. The mistakes have all been made by the Deputy. He said that in Norway one could be elected to parliament under 21 years. My information does not confirm that. You must be 21 years of age to be elected to the Norwegian Parliament but you can vote at 20 years or over. I have listed enough countries to show the thinking in other parts of the world, and to show that we are not unusual here. There is nothing terribly anomalous in having a lower voting age than the age for membership of parliament. I have dealt with that in sufficient detail.

Has the Minister ever heard the toast: "Hump the begrudgers"?

I often heard it. On the question of the European Parliament, a draft convention submitted by the Parliament to the Council of Ministers about ten years ago suggested a minimum voting age of 21 years and a minimum age of between 25 and 30 years for election to the parliament. These proposals have not yet been accepted by the Council, which is the decision making body. The only reason I am quoting those figures is to show that here again the thinking was that there should be a lower voting age than the minimum age for membership. I know that a resolution has since been adopted to reduce the 21 years to 18 years for national elections. It was not proposed to reduce the age for membership to anything lower than what was originally suggested. There is nothing unusual or anomalous in what we will have if and when this Bill is passed, and the referendum is passed, and the electoral law is changed to provide for it.

On the question of the age of majority and the legal limitations imposed by it which were listed by some Deputies, this is a matter for the Minister for Justice. I am sure he will consider the points that were made quite legitimately here. We are modernising our franchise law and we look forward to the full support of the community when they get the opportunity to vote on this Bill. If the House deems it proper to pass it and, if the Seanad pass it before the summer recess, I hope that will be some time in the autumn.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 11th July, 1972.