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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 11 Jul 1972

Vol. 262 No. 7

An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1972: Ceím an Choiste agus na Céimeanna Deiridh. Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1972: Committee and Final Stages.

ALT 1.
Tairgeadh an cheist: "Go bhfanfaidh alt 1 mar chuid den Bhille."
Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

An amendment in the name of Deputy Fitzpatrick has been ruled out of order on the grounds that it is not relevant to the Bill as read a Second Time.

(Cavan): I said on Second Stage that I welcomed this Bill, that I was entirely in favour of giving the vote to citizens at 18 years of age. I pointed out that I considered this proposal to be overdue and that it had been part of Fine Gael policy from as far back as 1965. At the Fine Gael Ard Fheis held in that year a resolution was passed unanimously by the supreme authority of Fine Gael making it Fine Gael policy to call for the vote at 18.

Since 1965 there have been marked changes in the approach of middle aged and elderly persons towards youth. One might say that in those seven years, youth have been emancipated and recognised as playing an adult part in national affairs. Indeed, as each year passes we find that people are maturing younger and that they are taking part in national affairs at an earlier age. I read in The Sunday Press only this week that the student body of the National University are demanding two seats on the governing body of the university. What was adequate in 1965 to satisfy the just claims of youth is not adequate today.

It was in that atmosphere that I suggested to the Minister that this Bill was not going far enough and that in particular this section is not wide enough. I suggested to the Minister that he should confer on persons who had reached the age of 18 years the right to offer themselves for election to Parliament and, if elected, to take their seats. I put down an amendment to that effect but the Ceann Comhairle, no doubt in accordance with Standing Orders, ruled the amendment out of order so that I am not now at liberty to move it. However, in order to provide an opportunity of discussing this question at a later date I have handed in to the Bills Office a Private Member's Bill which seeks to amend the Constitution by conferring on persons who had reached the age of 18 years the right to offer themselves for election to Parliament and, if elected, to take their seats.

It is noteworthy that at the moment the Council of Europe are considering reducing the legal age of majority from 21 to 18 years. The existing law, which decress that a person is an infant until he reaches the age of 21 years, leads to a number of absurdities. The argument has been put forward many times that a person is called on to pay taxes at 18 years of age and, perhaps, younger. There are many thousands of people of 18 years of age who are paying substantial sums each week under the PAYE system. They have no alternative because the tax is deducted from their wages. It has been pointed out also that the Civil Service is staffed partially by many fine young people in their teens. If we were to exclude teenagers from the National Army we would have a very depleted Force. The qualifying age for recruitment to the Garda Síochána is 18. Therefore, it is an understatement to say that this Bill is overdue. As has been pointed out also, a man is entitled to marry at 18 or younger and, when married, he is obliged under the law of this country to provide for his wife and family; yet he is not considered mature enough to take care of his own finances. If, for example, he wins the Sweep, he cannot collect the money until he is 21. Is not that absurd and is it not equally absurd to deny him the right to vote at 18?

I have said that the Bill should go further and confer on people of 18 the right to offer themselves for election to Parliament. By and large down through the years the voting age and the qualifying age for taking seats in Parliament have been the same in many countries. That has been the position in such countries as Australia, Canada, Chile, Finland, Great Britain, Iceland, Nigeria, New Zealand, Norway and, of course, Ireland. Admittedly, as the Minister will probably point out, some of those countries, notably Great Britain and also the US which is not mentioned on the list I have, have changed the voting age but have retained the age of 21 as the qualifying age for election to Parliament. I concede that, but is that consistent? I do not think it is. It would be more consistent to have the voting age the same as the qualifying age for taking a seat. The Minister will also point out, I am sure, if we are allowed to continue in this vein——

The Chair feels that we are discussing the substance of what might have been the Deputy's amendment.

(Cavan): I am really making the case in favour of the vote at 18 by saying that not only should we have a vote at 18 but we should have a seat at 18. That makes the case stronger for having a vote at 18. It shows how strongly I favour the proposal in the Bill.

The Deputy's amendment was ruled out of order as not applicable to the Bill.

(Cavan): I am not moving the amendment.

The Deputy could have made that type of speech on the Second Reading but not when it has been ruled out at this stage when we are confined to what is in the Bill.

(Cavan): I am entirely in favour of the Bill but it is inconsistent in giving the vote at 18 and in not giving the right to offer oneself for election at 18. I hope the Minister will seriously consider the arguments I made on the Second Reading. If I were in order in doing so now I would expand and develop them at this stage. I believe the Minister gave no thought whatever to the proposal I have suggested. I hope that when this section goes before the people it will be accepted by an overwhelming majority, as I am satisfied it will. When the Minister was speaking on the Second Stage and replying to some remarks I made he was ungracious enough to express the hope that when this section of the Bill went before the people Fine Gael would campaign in its favour. The Minister may rest assured of that and that because Fine Gael will campaign in its favour, it will be carried by the people.

He was ungracious enough on that occasion to say that he hoped Fine Gael would work harder than they did in the recent referendum. Speeches like that from young Ministers only go to show the different thinking there is in the present Government. I pointed out to the Minister then that immediately after the referendum the Taoiseach was big enough, gracious and honest enough to compliment Deputy Cosgrave, leader of the Fine Gael Party and the party on the notable part they had played in the referendum on the EEC. I can tell the Minister that at any time in recent political history when they had not the assistance of the Fine Gael Party in a referendum his party did not do so well.

We are now getting away from the Bill completely.

(Cavan): I think I am entitled to make this reference because the Minister went out of his way when replying to speak in those terms. I am exhorting the people to support this section which is the effective section of the Bill when it goes to them in the referendum. I assure the Minister that Fine Gael will recommend it to the people and that the Fine Gael organisation will go into action on referendum day to encourage the people to vote. It would be extraordinary if we did not do so.

The Chair hopes the Deputy will not embark on a discussion of something that is in the past.

(Cavan): No, I am now talking of something that will happen in October or November. I assure the Minister that this has the full support of Fine Gael. As evidence of that, I have pointed out that it has been part of Fine Gael's printed policy since 1965.

I called for a Committee Stage of the Bill for the purpose of putting down an amendment which I did put down but which was ruled out of order. I was not then aware that it was not in order. I have tabled a Private Member's Bill and I hope the Government will at least give that a Second Reading later on.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.

Question put and agreed to.
Aontíodh alt 2.
Section 2 agreed to.
Aontíodh an Teideal.
Title agreed to.
Tuairiscíodh an Bille gan leasú.
Bill reported without amendment.
D'aontaíodh na Céimeanna eile a thógaint inniu.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist:
"Go nglacfar an Bille chun an breithniú deireadh a dhéanamh air.
Bill received for final consideration.
Tairgeadh an cheist: "Go rithfidh an Bille anois."
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Last week, when I was speaking on the Second Stage, I made some references to the voting age and the minimum age for election to Parliament in a number of countries. The information I gave was as up-to-date as was available to me at that time, but since the debate I have had inquiries made through the Department of Foreign Affairs as to the present position regarding the ages for voting and membership of Parliament in a large number of countries. That information has come to hand in the last few days. It shows that as a result of recent changes the minimum age for membership of parliament in Norway and Denmark is 20 years, not 21 as I stated last week. In the case of Sweden the minimum age for voting and membership of Parliament is now 19. I am glad to avail of this opportunity to put that matter right.

Deputies referred to the question of having the same minimum age for election to Parliament as for voting. I should like to point out that there is quite a discrepancy and the general trend seems to be not to have the same age for voting as for membership of Parliament.

The Deputy's amendment has been ruled out of order.

(Cavan): Have we no minds of our own?

I wanted to correct a wrong impression I gave last week in the case of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.

Question put and agreed to.