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.