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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 13 Jul 1972

Vol. 73 No. 6

An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1972: An Dara Céim agus na Céimeanna Deiridh. Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1972: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Cuireadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille do'n Dara Uair."
Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Sé an cuspóir atá leis an mBille seo ná ceart vótála a thabhairt do ghach saoránach a bhfuil ocht mbliana déag slán aige. Mar is eol do Sheanadóirí, faoin mBunreacht mar atá sé faoi láthair, tig le gach saoránach a bhfuil bliain is fiche slán aige vótáil ag toghcháin don Dáil, toghcháin don Uachtarán agus ag reifrinn. Má ritheann an Seanad an Bille roimh saoire an tsamhraidh, beartaíonn an Rialtas an tairiscint a chur ós chomhair na ndaoine ag reifreann a tionólfar i rith an fhomhair.

Nuair a thug an tAire an Bille seo ós chomhair na Dála, chuir teachtaí ó ghach pháirte fáilte roimhe agus tá mé lán-chinnte go bhfáilteoidh Seanadóirí roimhe freisin. Is léir go bhfuil muid go léir ar aonghuth faoin gceist seo agus tá súil agam go mbeidh muid in ann có-oibriú le céile chun a chur ina luí ar na daoine a gcuid votaí a chaitheamh i bhfábhar an togra ar lá an reifrinn.

This is a small Bill but is important and historical in the sense that it proposes to widen the parliamentary franchise which has remained unchanged since the early days of this State. It is a very simple Bill consisting basically of a single section. It provides for the amendment of Article 16.1.2º of the Constitution by the substitution of "18 years" for "21 years". This article deals with elections to Dáil Éireann but because the Constitution provides 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 approve of the proposal in this Bill, and it is my sincere hope that they will, it will be necessary to introduce a short Bill to make the necessary consequential changes in the electoral law. It is intended to take the opportunity of that Bill to provide for the lowering of the voting age at local government elections to 18 years Senators will recall that an undertaking has already been given on this matter.

This House passed a resolution on 22nd March last calling on the Taoiseach to take the steps necessary to allow all persons of 18 years and over the right to vote at all referenda and parliamentary and local elections. It is clear from this action and from the views expressed on all sides of the House on the recent debate on the Local Elections Bill that all parties are fully in favour of the principle of votes at 18. It is not necessary, therefore, for me at this stage to go into detail or to advance further arguments in favour of lowering the voting age.

This is a Bill which, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, we can feel confident will be welcomed by all shades of opinion, both in this House and outside it. It is a Bill that, in the opinion of many, is long overdue. The various reasons in favour of its introduction were enumerated here briefly some months ago, and in various other places at length over the last number of years. It is no harm to detail briefly once again the thinking behind those who moved the motion some months ago. As far back as 1965 the Fine Gael Party wrote into their policy documents the principle that all people of 18 years and over should have the right to cast their votes in any elections. I should like to pay a tribute to someone who is no longer with us and who was a candidate for election to this House at the last election. At the time he was a member of Dublin County Council and about ten years ago he persuaded that council to pass a resolution calling on the Government to introduce the type of Bill which is before us today. Credit is due not only to him but to that local authority for their far-sighted move at that time. Following on his efforts, my party wrote into their policy documents in 1965 as one of the main principles of the Fine Gael policy at that time. Some years later the Labour Party also decided to adopt this idea as part of their policy.

The matter lay there with various requests and moves being made. The whole question was considered by the Committee on the Constitution in 1967, but I am afraid it has taken until now to have in legislative form what a great number of people, both inside and outside of Parliament, have been looking for for the last ten years. A motion lay on the Order Paper of this House for almost two years in the names of Senator Mannion, Senator O'Higgins and myself, calling on the Government to take a step like this. It was moved, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, a few months ago, following the introduction of a Private Members' Bill in the Dáil by Deputy Coogan and Deputy Hogan, which was not agreed to by the Minister. On its First Reading he gave an undertaking to introduce a similar type Bill. On the same day the Seanad formally moved our motion which had lain there for so long and it was agreed to.

The thinking behind those who wanted to see the franchise extended to people of 18 years and over was briefly that those of this age are entitled by the laws of this country to marry and rear a family. They are entitled to become members of the Defence Forces and of the Garda Síochána. In that context they may be asked to put their lives at risk on behalf of the State. Yet they were not allowed to cast their vote as to who should become a member of the Parliament of the State. Under the Intoxicating Liquor Acts they are entitled to take drink. They are entitled to drive a motor-car. They are obliged, if wage-earners, to pay taxes or social insurance. If they are the rated occupiers of property, they must pay rates. In other words, they have all the obligations of any other adult member of the State, but they have not the very important advantage and right of having a say in deciding who should be a member of the national parliament, or who should be a member of the local authority in the administrative area in which they live.

I should like to think that the introduction of this Bill today is a mark of the increasing maturity of Irish society. It has been said that its introduction is a mark of an earlier maturity. I think it is rather an indication of an awareness generally on the part of all shades of opinion and of people of all ages, whether young or old, that young people have a part to play. Their contribution towards the development of a better society and, indeed, of a society that cares more for the underprivileged members of our society, is a role that they are playing increasingly. They have been showing that, through their efforts, they can bring real help and real compassion to bear in a way that, perhaps, their elders have not done quite so well in the past. That maturity is also evident in their elders in the fact that they are now prepared to allow young people to play a role such as this, and in the fact that, if even at a later stage than we might have had hoped, this Bill is before us today.

Those people who were Members of the first Dáil and who helped to found this State and keep it in existence were almost invariably men and women who entered the political arena at an age earlier than 21 years. Very many of them, when they became Members of the First Dáil, had barely reached the age of 21 themselves. At that stage they had been actively engaged in politics, some of them for as long as eight or ten years. When one realises that, it is rather surprising that it should have taken us over 50 years to get around to introducing a Bill which would recognise the fact that young people have a part to play.

There is a strange type of anomaly that while this Bill, if passed, and if the referendum is agreed to, will allow people of 18 years and over the right to vote, nonetheless one will still have to be 21 years or older to stand for election as a member of either the Dáil or the Seanad. It seems strange that the Government did not, at the same time, take the opportunity of introducing a second Amendment of the Constitution Bill which would have allowed those of 18 years and over the right to stand for election as candidates. There have been various reasons advanced as to why this should not be so. I do not consider them to be reasons with any great foundation because they are mainly based on the fact that no other country happens to allow young people of 18 or over the right to stand as candidates for elections. Far too often our yardstick is whether or not a precedent exists in other countries, usually in the western hemisphere and usually countries which are our neighbours. The Government should have taken a braver approach towards this, so that perhaps if at some time in the future a similar type of discussion was being held in the national parliaments of other countries, the precedent of Ireland allowing young people of 18 years the right to stand as candidates in elections could be held up as an example for those other countries to follow. This poor little country, as always, waits until the last moment and until there is a very definite and safe precedent to go by, so that our national parliament and our Government will not be embarrassed.

I hope that in his reply the Parliamentary Secretary may give some better reasons than have been given so far as to why young people of 18 to 21 years are not being allowed to stand as candidates.

On behalf of my party I welcome this Bill, as someone who has had a motion on the Order Paper for a long time and as someone who happens to be the youngest Member of this House. On behalf of the young people generally I should like to welcome it and to urge my colleagues on both sides to ensure when the referendum is held that there is an active interest taken by the electorate in it and that there is a large and positive response to this appeal to the Irish people to change the Constitution and afford what is a basic civil right to people who have all the other obligations as members of the community.

I dteannta leis an Seanadóir Ó Beoláin cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Fé mar a dúirt an Rúnaí Parlaiminte ritheadh an Bille sa Dáil áit ar chuir gach Teachta fáilte roimhe. Is maith an rud é ceart vótála a bheith ag daoine os cionn ocht mbliana déag. Ní gá moill a chur ar an mBille. Tá súil agam go rithfear é chomh réasúnta tapaidh agus is féidir.

I welcome this Bill and note the fact that the motion which was before the Seanad until recently seems to have something to do with the speeding up of the introduction of this legislation. It would be extremely dangerous to withhold the franchise any longer from people between the ages of 18 to 21. They are politically mature and they often see things more clearly and decisively than older people do. The younger people will see clearly what is good and what is bad in our political institutions and the changes that the extension of the franchise will make will be beneficial.

It is most important that younger people play a fuller role in our electoral procedures. I cannot see why the Government have not gone further and given to people between the ages of 18 and 21 an opportunity to stand for election to both Houses of the Oireachtas. If the people between 18 and 21 years can vote in these elections then there it no valid argument why they should not play the fullest part possible and become eligible to stand for election and take seats in both Houses of the Oireachtas. I should like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary, when he is replying, whether the Government are considering extending the legislation in this direction and whether they intend to make this move in the near future.

I, too, welcome this Bill. As has been pointed out by Senator Boland, as far back as 1965 there was a resolution passed at a Fine Gael Árd Fheis requesting the Government to give the vote at 18. That was also contained in the Labour Party's policy in the last general election. We have now reached the situation where the Parliamentary Secretary is here today introducing this Bill and certainly we all welcome it. Many people at 18 play their part in all the affairs of the country. They can be enlisted into the Army at 18. There are people between 18 and 21 who are mothers and fathers rearing children. These people are entitled to a vote. They pay taxes at 18 and can get a driver's licence. They can purchase alcoholic drink and have to pay their full share of social insurance. For that and many other reasons it is only right that we should give them the vote at 18 years.

In recent years the voting age has been reduced in America, Great Britain, Norway and many other countries. If this proposal is carried it will mean that a person who has reached the age of 18 years of age will be entitled to vote but will not be in a position to offer himself or herself as a candidate for this House. I do not think that it is fair. We are looking to see if any other country has done this. It is time we started to give the lead here ourselves. One would be tempted to suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that, even at this late stage, there should be two amendments in this. We could call the other one the Fifth Amendment—to amend paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 16 of the Constitution. The answer offered, I am sure, would be that the electorate might get mixed up. I do not think they would. We are dealing with an intelligent, sensible electorate. I am satisfied that they would be capable of voting on the two amendments on the one day.

I wonder how sincere the Government are in relation to the vote at 18 years of age. They had the opportunity when introducing a Bill in this House to give the vote at 18 years in local elections. They failed to do so. The answer of the Parliamentary Secretary who dealt with the Bill was that he felt that this should be decided by an amendment to the Constitution and that the decision should be given by the people of the country. I cannot go the whole way with that because there was an obligation on us in this House and the other House to give the lead to the people. That did not happen but I am sure that everybody in the House and people who are interested in the youth will do everything they can to see that this amendment to the Constitution is carried.

I welcome this Bill as it gives an opportunity to the people to exercise their constitutional rights. It is not a foregone conclusion that a decision will be given in favour of votes at 18. I do not agree that the age of those standing for election to the Dáil or Seanad should be reduced to 18. A person who wishes to stand for election to either House should have contributed in some way to the economy of the country. In modern times people attend schools and universities to a later age and the age for sitting for Parliament should be raised from 21 to 25.

Like other Senators I welcome this Bill, but in my case it is a qualified welcome. The Bill does so little it is hardly worth the trouble and expense of a referendum. We are told these referenda are very costly.

I am in favour of giving votes to persons of 18 and over and of allowing them to stand for election. I agree with Senator Boland's points about the way in which they otherwise play a part in the country by fighting and dying; they can marry and take part as full citizens. This applies equally forcefully to allowing them to stand for election.

Young people are becoming very disillusioned and finding it increasingly difficult to play a constructive part in the country and need to be involved more directly in our democratic process. It is a sham to allow them to vote for others and not to be allowed to vote for those of their own age group and be allowed to participate actively in the various levels of democratic structures, both at parliamentary level and local government level.

It is incredible that we have a second Bill this year to amend the Constitution on such a minor matter. We are asking people again to change the 1937 Constitution but we are not asking them to face any of the real problems of this year. There are real problems to be faced such as minority rights in the South and of making the southern Constitution more acceptable to those living in Northern Ireland. It is either an incredible cynicism or else we are living in cloud-cuckoo land. I should like to disassociate myself from this sort of thinking and, on the Second Reading of a Bill to amend the Constitution, to put forward what I should like to see as a Bill to amend the Constitution in 1972 in the serious political and social climate which faces us.

The sort of change I should like to see and the matter I should like the people to be asked to vote on involves the removal of various elements in the 1937 Constitution which are divisive on religious and social grounds. I should like to refer briefly to a report of a working-party set up by the Irish Theological Association which is reported in the June issue of The Furrow and which makes unanimous recommendations for changes in the Constitution.

I do not like interrupting the Senator as her speech is interesting, but has this any connection with the Bill?

This is the Second Reading of the Bill and it is open to any Senator who wishes to suggest other amendments to the Constitution they think desirable.

But a whole programme for the amendment of the Constitution does not come under the Bill to provide for a referendum.

It provides for amending the Constitution.

Surely any amendments to the Constitution may be discussed on this Bill.

That would appear to be so on Second Reading.

I should like to thank the Cathaoirleach. That is my reading of it. If we are discussing a Bill to amend the Constitution we should discuss it in terms of what amendments would be appropriate to it. The point I am trying to make is that this is an incredibly petty point to put before the people as an amendment to the Constitution in isolation from all the other much more important and necessary amendments to the Constitution.

Turning to this report of the working party set up by the Irish Theological Association, its merit, if it has any merit, is that it was set up by an interdenominational body representing the various churches in Ireland. This report which is set out in the June issue of The Furrow at page 370 goes through various articles of the Constitution and makes recommendations. First of all, in relation to the preamble, it states:

It is a customary for a Constitution to have a preamble. Whatever its interpretative value or legal significance, it creates a certain social and psychological climate. The working-party recognised that the present preamble reflects the predominant religious strand in the Irish tradition but it is not satisfied that this is necessary or appropriate in such a legal document.

It goes on to recommend a simpler, more pluralist, more acceptable preamble to other minority religious, which embodies the idea of the Irish people giving to themselves a Constitution representative of all our citizens.

The next article to which it refers is Article 44, which recognises the special position of the Catholic Church and the position of other named churches and, as has been pointed out on many occasions, this is not a comprehensive list. It is a selective list and dates from 1937. The report states:

On the basis of these considerations the working-party is agreed that the Constitution as basic law of the land should omit all references to specific religions and Churches, and that its provisions should be confined to securing the free profession and practice of all religions and beliefs subject to the recognised limitations referred to above.

It would confine Article 44 to the protection of freedom to practise religion, freedom of opinion and the guarantee of not favouring any particular religion.

The report next deals with Article 41 which prohibits the granting of a dissolution of marriage and divorce. The working-party recommends and I quote:

The prohibition in the present Constitution on the introduction of any law "providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage" did not exist in the 1922 Constitution but was introduced for the first time in 1937. So there is no long Irish tradition behind it.

It is very difficult to find any other Constitution in which such a provision exists.

Although the various Christian Churches in Ireland are opposed to dissolution of marriage in general, certain exceptions are recognised. In fact however the existing provisions have been interpreted as representing the Roman Catholic position and have in that way been religiously divisive. Yet the effect of 3.2º and 3º is to deny in law the right of Roman Catholics to remarry who have received an ecclesiastical decree of dissolution or nullity.

The working-party recommends that 3.2º and 3º be omitted. In this way the religiously divisive element will be removed and the social implications of change can be examined on their merits.

The working-party points out clearly that in actual wording Article 41 goes further than the Roman Catholic Church in preventing even the recognition of a nullity granted by the Catholic Church. Under the terms of our Constitution this is not a valid dissolution of a marriage in our law. This is both illogical in the terms in which it was intended as well as divisive in that it is representative of only one strain of religion in the country.

These are the subjects which ought to be considered as a matter of urgency both for the citizens living here and also for those living in the North in this year of tragedy. The Leader of the House will probably point out that there is a Dáil Committee sitting on the Constitution. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary in the context of the Second Reading of the Bill when this Dáil Committee will report its findings. What has it been discussing up to date? What attempt has been made to speed up the report so that it can make a positive contribution where there is such a need for this type of response and where there is a need for change. Could it not have reported back in time for its recommendations to have been incorporated in this Amendment to the Constitution Bill? It seems unbelievable that it took so many weeks for its terms of reference to be decided, and further weeks elapsed before the first meeting. Since then it has gone underground. Of all the committees one hears about which have attempted to shelve a problem this must be the greatest.

The Senator should refrain from criticising the activities of Committees of the other House.

The Senator is on her hobby horse. Let her ride.

I will just make my point by asking if information about this Dáil Committee could be forthcoming in the reply to the Second Reading of this Bill, which is such a disappointing and minute attempt to amend the Constitution when the real problems have not been put to the people.

Like the other Senators who have spoken, I welcome this Bill. We must agree with Senator Robinson's comments in connection with this referendum. This referendum is quite likely to become the nonevent of 1972. Here we have an issue where we have a referendum to give votes at 18 years. All the political parties are claiming credit as being the pioneers of this idea. It is their particular policy and nobody will take any interest in trying to ensure that the people go to the polling booths to cast their votes for or against this proposal. Senator Gallanagh mentioned that it was quite likely that adults might vote against the proposal to give votes at 18 years. It behoves all the political parties to ensure that not alone should we be claiming credit in this House and in Dáil Éireann for being the pioneers of this idea of votes at 18 years but that we should ensure that we can conduct a campaign to make certain that the public will vote.

Disappointment has been expressed at the fact that, while we are prepared to give votes at 18 years, we are not prepared to permit those between the ages of 18 and 21 years to stand as candidates for elections to the Dáil, Seanad or local authorities. In reading through the report of the debates in the Dáil, I formed the impression that those who spoke were unable to give an indication of any other country where people could stand as candidates for an election at 18 years of age. Switzerland was cited as a country where a person of 20 years of age could stand for election. Can we not make up our minds here whether or not to give people the right to stand for election at 18 years rather than look around the globe to see if Switzerland, Belgium or America conceded this right to the youth of their countries?

Nobody will be standing for Parliament under 19 years of age. Under our present system a person must be 21 years of age before his name appears on the register. Two, three or four years may elapse before that person will cast his first vote at an election. This means if the referendum is successful that he will be 19, 20 or 21 years of age before he votes. At that age a person has a right to stand as a candidate for an election.

It is a bit cynical when people in the 18 to 21 age group can go to the polling booth to vote for A, B, or C but they are denied the right to vote for a person of their particular age group. This offers no encouragement to youth who are rather cynical of people in the older age bracket. It will not encourage them to vote for somebody who, they feel, may be out of sympathy with their modern thinking.

This may appear to be a revolutionary request, because no other country has had the courage to give the right to stand for election to all those who have the right to vote in a parliamentary election. We should display some courage and initiative in this issue and give to anybody whose name appears on the register the right to stand in Dáil, Seanad or local government elections.

Many of us in this House will remember the time when only a ratepayer or householder had the privilege to vote in local authority elections. I am sure Senator Ó Maoláin, who raised this matter quite recently, will correct me if I am wrong: the last local elections contested on that basis was in 1934. The then Fianna Fáil Government introduced legislation after 1934 and changed the system and everyone whose name was on the register and had the right to vote in a parliamentary election was given the right to vote in a local authority election. That was a wise and prudent decision. At that time only the privileged people who were property owners could vote. The rest of the community had no such privilege. That change did an immense amount of good.

I should like to know had anybody whose name was on the register prior to 1934 and who was not a ratepayer or householder the right to stand as a candidate for a local election or was that privilege given only to property owners?

Rather than looking around the globe in connection with this Bill and saying that because some other country has not given the votes at 18 that we should wait until someone else pioneers it. We should make this Bill a better one by having a bit of courage and not alone giving the vote at 18, but giving the right to stand in all elections to anybody who is on the register of electors.

I am glad Senator Fitzgerald referred to the 1934 legislation. I think he is wrong. I happen to remember that very well. It was 1933 that the Government introduced the Bill to give the right to vote in local government elections to all citizens irrespective of property qualification. It came into operation in time for the local government elections of 1934.

Senator Fitzgerald expressed the belief that it did no harm. It did, in fact, do a tremendous amount of good because it brought an amount of fresh thinking, fresh faces and bright young men into local administration and incidently in 99 per cent of the councils it wiped out the Fine Gael majority on that occasion and gave Fianna Fáil control of practically every local council in the country. That was very good.

That is all the more reason why we should give them the right to stand for election.

I am a bit puzzled by the desire of people to have young people entitled to sit in the Dáil and go up for President and have all the right and responsibilities at the age of 18. I could make an equally good case for a young fellow of 14 having the right to stand for the Dáil on the basis of the claims that were made here by speakers in regard to the qualifications of people of 18. I remember seeing young fellows in the Fianna at the time, carrying rifles, revolvers and ammunition, helping to put barricades on roads, helping to build ambush positions and going back to school. Surely a child of 14 who took part in activities of that nature and who was prepared to get shot in the process would be as much entitled to stand for President or to be a Member of the Dáil or Seanad as anybody of 18 who just has normal educational qualifications.

I could equally make a case for people of 16, 15 or 14. Why the emphasis on 18? What is so different about the age of 18? It is merely a gimmick and I do not think it should be taken seriously. There is a vast difference between giving the vote at 18 to the young people and give them the responsibility of administering the affairs of the country and particularly the affairs of country with problems such as we have. They have not fully matured with regard to experience of life and of its problems. Even the couple of years between 18 and 21, and the fact that they mix with other people and read more and travel possibly, gives them the opportunity of learning a little more than they would have known at the age of 18, or 16 or 14.

I would be completely against any idea of allowing responsibility of that nature to devolve on the shoulders of anyone of 18. With regard to the vote at 18. I have no objection to that. The first departure in regard to the amendment of elected law was made in 1933 by the Fianna Fáil Government and we have no reason to be ashamed of the attitude that was adopted by the Government in regard to giving democratic rights to all citizens at all times since. When the need and the possibility arose, the Government acted according to the principles of democratic rights and freedom. So it has in this case.

While I have no objection to Senator Boland patting himself on the back in respect of his party's advocacy of the right to vote at 18, I would remind him that other parties also have the same belief. The main thing is that everybody now accepts the principle that votes should be given at 18, and the referendum is the opportunity to enable that principle to be put into practical effect.

Senator Fitzgerald seems to have some doubts about whether everybody is going to vote or not. With all the interests which the parties have shown on this matter, there should be no doubt whatever that every effort will be made to persuade the people that it is their duty to take part in this referendum and to express their opinion so that the Government and the people generally will know what is thought of the proposition to give the responsibility of voting and electing representatives to the young people of 18.

I have no doubt that there will be a big poll and, as Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Boland have said, we hope that every effort will be made by all Members of this House to assist in bringing about that desirable result.

With regard to Senator Robinson's remarks on the Constitution, I do not see this great demand she speaks of. I do not know from what source comes this terrific need and urgency for referenda to deal with the denial of minority rights to people down here. I was very interested to look at a documentary film on the British Broadcasting Corporation network about a week ago entitled "I am a Protestant and Proud of It". I do not know if Senator Robinson takes time off to look at these things, but I would advise her to do so. They are very educational, very informative.

In this case the BBC sent a camera crew to Ireland with instructions, apparently, to find Protestants with grievances, Protestants who could claim to be persecuted. This cameraman and his interviewer travelled all round these Twenty-Six Counties— from the North down to West Cork. They interviewed all types of people and spoke quite freely to them. They only interviewed Protestants, of course. Yet they could not find a single Protestant who expressed any desire that the Constitution was in urgent need of amendment. Neither could they locate a single Protestant who claimed that this question of divorce facilities and contraceptives was an urgent pressing problem which was upsetting their sleep and their digestion and denying them an appetite. In fact, according to this documentary, life was quite congenial for these people. The only complaint he could find throughout the Twenty-Six Counties during the course of that survey concerned that old hobby horse of the Ne Temere decree. They produced that in a few places as the reason for the social segregation existing still in parts of rural Ireland.

This is a matter over which the Government have no control—it is a matter for the ecclesiastical authorities. It is a matter on which people have a right to hold their own opinions. I personally should like to see the end of that decree. I do not see any sense in maintaining it. If there is any way in which public opinion can persuade the church authorities to abolish it, it would be better not alone for the church and the harmony of life among the people but also for the interests of the whole country in the future.

I do not understand where this great surge of demand is coming from for the urgent amendment of the Constitution by a series of referenda on all the matters about which Senator Robinson spoke. There is a committee representative of all the parties considering this matter at present. In due course we will have their findings put before us for our consideration and decision.

With the existence of so many small societies with quaint left-wing names borrowed from other countries, such as Citizens for Civil Rights, Citizens for Social Justice and so on, I am surprised that in opposition to those societies some liberal society has not been formed among liberal-minded people who would answer the correspondence one sees in the newspapers from such organised groups who deliberately misrepresent the position, in respect to the Constitution of 1937 particularly. I often have been tempted to organise a society for the defence of the Constitution of 1937. There is not that much wrong with it.

No surrender, is it?

There is not that much wrong with it despite the apparent ignorance of Senator Robinson. The few articles which require amendment can be amended without unduly upsetting anybody. I would suggest to Senator Robinson and anyone else with similar ideas that nothing is gained by exaggeration, that nothing is gained by portraying a situation which does not exist. If people believe that articles of the Constitution should be amended, a reasonable case should be made which does not need to be bolstered up by the type of argument heard against, for example, the continuance of Article 44. There is no need for any campaign against Article 44. Everybody knows that Artcle 44, so far as conferring any special benefits on the Catholic Church is concerned, means nothing. Nobody will lose any sleep if it is abolished.

Why did you not propose to repeal it in this Bill?

But apparently people like Senator Robinson wish to make Article 44 an example of the domineering control of the Catholic Church in this part of Ireland. This is nonsense. If a case requires such bolstering up to persuade people to support it, it must be a very poor case.

This Bill which Senators have welcomed is a further step on the road to ensuring that our democracy will be as progressive as any in the rest of the world. When enacted in legislation after the referendum, it will enable young people to take seriously their responsibilities as citizens and make them realise that running up and down the streets in parades, throwing things at the police and other citizens who do not share the same beliefs, is not the proper way to conduct themselves in a free democracy.

We hope it will have a good effect on youthful enthusiasm, particularly of some young university students. We hope it will help them to appreciate that this is their country, of which they should be proud and which they should endeavour to improve in every way possible. They will have the responsibility of electing representatives to local and national bodies. They should elect representatives who will take their duties seriously and so ensure that the freedom we have in this part of the island will be maintained and handed down to the next generation. I think the country as a whole will approve the idea of a referendum. I am convinced that the country will vote in favour of giving the vote at 18 when they get the opportunity.

When the referendum is being held on the question of extending the franchise to people of 18 a second question should also be asked of the electorate: "Do they approve of people of 18 years and older having the right to stand for parliamentary and local elections?" The whole question of rights of citizens at 18 years should be put to the people and let them make their decision.

The people should also be afforded the opportunity to express their views on whatever other matters are causing concern in connection with the Constitution on the same day. They should not be considered so immature that they would be incapable of answering several questions at the one time. This referendum could have been held earlier, on the occasion of the Common Market referendum. If the leader of the House concedes that there are some sections of the Constitution in need of amendment, this is the opportunity to amend them. With due deference to his wisdom and experience, I do not think that any BBC documentary is an adequate substitute for a referendum. If those questions are being asked and if it has been found necessary to set up a commission to examine them and to find out whether they should be amended or deleted from the Constitution altogether, a referendum should be held with a view to giving the people an opportunity of expressing their views on them.

If Article 44 of the Constitution confers no right whatever on one particular church compared with other churches —I am convinced that it does not— that is all the more reason why it should not be there. If it causes any annoyance, or any excuse for annoyance, it should be done away with. If our people in the North draw our attention to that Article, in their efforts to whip up antagonism in this community, now is the time to make a gesture of goodwill towards them by removing that Article. If it confers no benefit on any church it should not be there as it is offered as an excuse by those people to attack this part of the country as Catholic Church dominated. That excuse should be done away with by asking the people to decide it by referendum.

I believe this referendum will be regarded by a large number of people as an opportunity missed. Young people who will be given the right to vote at 18 years will want to know why the people were not asked to adjudicate on whether they should be allowed to stand for parliamentary elections at 18 years. It will cause a lot of dissatisfaction among our young people. They will not be satisfied by being told "We will extend the full rights of citizenship to you in a niggardly way. We will give you a little now and, if you behave yourselves properly, we will give you a little more in three, four or five years time."

The youth of today will not be prepared to settle for that. Other people will see it as an opportunity missed of removing causes for grievances among various minorities and, particularly, as an opportunity missed of removing causes for grievances among our people in Northern Ireland. For that reason the referendum will be regarded as a great mistake because it seems to do so little at a time when it would appear to be very, very necessary to do a great deal more.

It appears to be acceptable to all sides that we should allow people to vote at 18 years. A number of Senators have asked why not introduce further amendments to the Constitution and why not have a package deal? The changing of the Constitution is a very serious matter and our record of changes in the Constitution has not been too successful, the last referendum having been the first successful change. The Constitution is the safeguard of every individual that Parliament will not change the laws by a simple majority as appertains in the Communist States.

Senator Fitzgerald suggested that we should take a bold step and become the first country in the world to allow people to stand for Parliament at 18 years. I recall an old proverb which says: "Never be the first to accept a new idea and never be the last to shed an old idea". That proverb should be borne in mind. I should not like to be the first to undertake any change. In America a candidate cannot go forward for presidential election unless he is older than 35 years and a Senator must be older than 30 years. We had the famous case of the Kennedys, where they wanted a Kennedy brother to succeed the President when he left office as Senator, when a Kennedy brother had to wait until he was 30 years to go forward for election as a Senator.

Amendments to the Constitution should be seriously considered. They must be taken piecemeal and every amendment should be voted on separately. Regarding amendment of Article 44, and other amendments that have been mentioned by Senators, they are only excuses that have been formulated in the present climate. Nobody is prevented from getting from abroad anything which they cannot purchase here. If that excuse was removed tomorrow some other excuse would be thought up. If we wish to pick holes in any written matter we will find plenty. I should like to recommend this Bill to the House.

I appreciate the wide welcome this Bill has been given by all speakers. I do not want to follow up the discussion regarding further and wider amendments of the Constitution. A study of the Constitution and decisions recommending changes to it are matters that have been entrusted to a Committee of the Dáil. This Committee is not a Government Committee—it is a Committee of the Dáil. The Government cannot say at this stage what recommendations will be made by the Committee or what decisions regarding legislation will be undertaken as a result of their deliberations.

Senator West asked if it is the Government's intention to bring in legislation which would enable a referendum to be held to allow people to go forward for elections at 18 years. The answer to that question is no. Further amendments to the Constitution are being considered by the Dáil Committee and their recommendations will eventually come before the Government. I wish to welcome the statement made by Senator Reynolds where he indicated the support of his party and the assistance of himself and his colleagues to ensure that the referendum on this would be carried. I am sure the same goes for other parties. The general tone of the debate was that it was something that all parties should get down to—the winning of the referendum on votes at 18 years.

Another matter which kept traversing the debate was who thought of it first. It does not really matter. I certainly do not want to spend the next half-hour trying to prove that at some past date we thought of this. No party thought of it first. This is a development in the maturity of our younger people. It represents a change of attitude again due to a welcome development among older people. No government or party can move faster than the people want them to do. It is a reflection of what the people want and it is clear that all parties have read the signs and that it was the lot of the Government to introduce this legislation.

We are glad to do it. We know that it is welcome not alone by all parties but by the people, because it represents a development of the minds of our people and a development in the national attitudes and outlooks of our people. That spells votes at 18 and the Government are giving an opportunity to the people to say clearly what they want, how many of them want it, and how many do not want it.

This is not a late effort : it is an effort which coincides with the will of the people and we are not at the end of the international table. There are many other countries who have not yet done what this Bill proposes to do and what the amendment of the Constitution will do.

I should like to refer to another matter raised here and in the Dáil, which is the introduction of seats at 18 years. There has been a suggestion that the Constitution should also be amended to allow those of 18 to 21 years to take seats in both Houses of the Oireachtas, in local authorities, and presumably to become candidates for the Presidency. The Government have not taken a decision on that and again, judging the will of the people and their views, I think that there would not be the same demand for this. However, it is something that the Dáil Committee on the Constitution will have under consideration and we shall wait for that opportunity.

Somebody mentioned that there is no country where seats at 18 years were available in either parliament or local authorities. There are a number where it exists, one being Canada where it is possible to become a member of parliament or of a local authority at 18. There are a few at 19, some at 20, some at 21 and some up to 25 years. Some very progressive countries do not allow their citizens to become members of parliament until 25 years, such as the United States. In France the age is 23. Arising out of that, the only point I want to make is that people in many countries—and this is the pattern running through a number of western European and other countries—agree that there should be a difference between giving the franchise and giving legislative powers to people of 18 years.

Finally, I hope that the referendum will have overwhelming support. In anticipation of its result, when the registers are being compiled towards the end of the year instructions are being given and provision is being made for the inclusion of the names of all those over 18 years in the draft registers which will be displayed in the usual centres. If the referendum is successful, that draft register will be the register which will come into operation on 15th April, 1973.

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.

Question put and agreed to.
Aontaíodh na Céimeanna eile a thógaint inniu.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Cuireadh an Bille tré Choiste, tuaraisgíodh é gan leasú, glacadh é chun an breithniú deiridh a dhéanamh air agus riteadh é.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.