Electoral (Amendment) (Voting at 16) Bill 2016: Committee Stage

SECTION 1

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to the House. He is just in time to see his people from Castlecomer.

Amendment No. 1 in the name of Senator Murnane O'Connor is out of order. Amendment No. 2 in the name of Senator Murnane O'Connor is also out of order.

They are both linked and if the Acting Chairman likes, I can do the two together.

They are both out of order. The Senator cannot speak on them but I will allow her in on the section.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

I welcome everyone here today, and particularly the young students in the Gallery. Hopefully, we will see change in the near future. I believe that young people should have a say.

Fianna Fáil's proposal involves the establishment of a select committee. It is what I speak about in my first amendment, in subsection (1), which states "A Select Committee shall be established ... ". In general, we believe in the principle of this Bill. I just want to let people know that. The reason we are here talking about this Bill today is to question how can we vote on something on which we do not have all the information.

I will explain why we are doing this and why we put these amendments forward. I have been speaking to secondary school students in Carlow in this year commemorating 100 years of women's suffrage and I have been shocked at how unfamiliar they are with our political system. This is common among young people. I would even go as far as to say it is common among Irish people in general.

When we get a voter turnout of 48%, we think we are marvellous but that is terrible. When one looks at it in general, whether it is local elections or general elections, one is praying that it will not rain or snow, or the weather will not be bad, because one's biggest fear is the turnout. If can be 48%, it can be 44% or 42%. It depends on the different constituencies.

This year we celebrate 100 years of women's suffrage. In our history, women and men died just so that we could get the chance to vote, in private and on our own. We have a fantastic democracy but we do not engage with the public so they cannot enjoy it. Recently, during the cold spell, people were comparing us to Russia. Actually, there is a grain of truth in that. Following the election of Putin, many voters stated they did not vote because they knew the outcome. They stated their vote did not matter. Irish people tell me that all the time. They see no point in voting. If the adults in this country feel like that, how can we expect the 16 year olds to feel any different?

The Constitutional Convention recommended the voting age be reduced to 16 years and while this Bill seeks to reduce the voting age in European and local elections to 16, the Bill is not complete, as seen by these amendments. My party is today putting forward these amendments.

We have tabled an amendment to have the Houses of the Oireachtas establish a select committee to consider: reducing the age at which a person shall be entitled to be registered as a European elector in a constituency to 16 years, provided that person is ordinarily resident in that constituency and is a citizen of Ireland, or a national of a Member State other than the State, and; reducing the age at which a person shall be entitled to be registered as a local government elector in a local area to 16 provided that the person is ordinarily resident in that area on the qualifying date. We further propose: this select committee be comprised of eight persons - four sitting Teachta Dála and four sitting Senators; a chairperson shall be selected by the members of the select committee; and the select committee may accept and invite submissions from interested bodies and shall prepare a report and make recommendations. It is vital that this gets appropriate consideration and a select committee is the way to do this.

The reason we are putting this proposal forward is that it is about all of us working together. It is about parents, teachers and students, and everybody, working together.

There is a need for an awareness campaign, particularly for 16 year olds but also for 18 year olds, and for people in general. As I have stated previously, we need to look at the awareness around voting. People died so that we would vote and it is outrageous that we are lucky, at general, local or European elections, if we have a turnout of 40% or 50%.

I believe that, in future, 16 year olds should vote. I can categorically say that the committee to which I refer will work to ensure that we raise awareness and we work with the 16 year olds to ensure that they have that vote. However, to start off this process, we need to get a committee set up. We need to get teachers, parents and students and everybody aware of the commitment of the vote. It is so crucial. That would be my first amendment.

I welcome the fact that amendments Nos. 1 and 2 have been ruled out of order.

We need to create the space in which to craft a new discourse. That is particularly relevant in the time that faces the European Union, because what we are talking about here is local and European elections. I refer to a European discourse that includes citizens from diverse settings, beliefs and cultures about how our continent might present itself. In order to facilitate that dialogue, we need alternative political options, options that generate debate and options that involve citizens, extending the electoral franchise to include those at 16 and 17 years of age who wish to vote, and indeed, proper citizens' initiatives that are democratic because the current European citizens' initiative has been an embarrassing failure.

I quote President Michael D. Higgins:

We are, in contemporary Europe, confronted with uniquely difficult challenges. But the essential response lies in striving towards an open politically engaged but questioning, socially and culturally aware citizenship - a citizenship that develops and protects the institutions that protect individual rights and foster a sense of duty, responsibility and accountability.

That is what we are asking for.

That is what young people are asking for. I commend the young people who have joined us in the Seanad today.

I commend all of the young people who have expressed their aspirations to our political representatives over the past week.

I introduced First Stage of this Bill in the Seanad on 12 July 2016. I remember it well as it was my first piece of legislation. I worked alongside Senator Lynn Ruane and felt immense pride in being in a position to introduce the legislation. I again thank the National Youth Council of Ireland for its constant support and note that its work, long before my time in Leinster House, inspired this Bill. I do not take my role as a legislator lightly. I believe that the work we do has a substantial impact on people's lives and on their role in shaping our society.

I introduced Second Stage on 29 March 2017. As we know, the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties voted for a motion that delayed the progress of the legislation in 2018. They stated that they needed more time to consider the Bill despite the issue having been debated in public forums on a regular basis, despite both parties having policies that support a lower voting age, despite the issue being considered at the Constitutional Convention, and despite the Bill being on the Order Paper for nine months before First Stage commenced.

Before the Bill was heard in this House I wrote to representatives in both parties and sought a meeting to discuss the Bill. Unfortunately, I did not receive a response. During the Second Stage debate in this House the Opposition en masse called out the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties for their cynicism, and shared that opinion. Once Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil united to pass a motion that would delay the Bill, I set about working with both of them so that we would utilise our time and ensure that Senators were satisfied. I wrote to the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, the current Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the two Ministers of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputies English and Phelan, and Deputy Cowen. Eventually, I met the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, and Senator Neale Richmond. I thank them both for their assistance.

For nearly 12 months Fianna Fáil, in particular, has failed to engage in any dialogue on the Bill. That leads me to believe that the motion it tabled today to delay proceedings, that has thankfully been ruled out of order, was a cynical attempt to again delay this issue, having previously delayed it on Second Stage. That concludes my remarks.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome the representatives of youth groups who are seated in the Gallery.

I commend Senators Ruane, Warfield and Mac Lochlainn for introducing the Bill. I wish to confirm that my Labour Party colleagues and I support Committee Stage of the Bill. My colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, spoke eloquently in favour of the Bill on Second Stage. The National Youth Council of Ireland, Foróige, Youth Work Ireland and the Irish Second-Level Students' Union have contacted all of us to express their support for the Bill.

I believe that the proposal is modest and deserves support. I echo the words expressed by Senator Warfield who criticised any further delay in bringing forward the legislation. The Bill simply provides for the expansion of suffrage to people who are 16 years of age and over in local and European elections. Many of us would like to see the legislation go further. Indeed, in forthcoming referendum campaigns, like the referendum and campaign on the eighth amendment, it would be very good and appropriate if the franchise was extended to 16 year olds and 17 year olds.

Senators have referenced the centenary of women's suffrage this year. As chairperson of the Vótáil 100 committee in the Oireachtas, I am glad to celebrate the expansion of suffrage to women back in 1918. Let us recall that in the years preceding the enactment of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave the right to vote to some women and only those over 30 years of age, the people who opposed the expansion of suffrage to women and opposed the right of women to vote expressed similar arguments to what we have heard about the right of young people to vote. For example, a lack of maturity or an inability to understand politics. Nowadays, in a contemporary and modern Ireland, we should not be afraid to extend the franchise to 16 year olds and 17 year olds, particularly in this limited way. I was proud to support the proposal some years ago at the Constitutional Convention, on behalf of the Labour Party, and I am proud to support it again today. I hope the Bill will be passed today and urge all colleagues on all sides to support same.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome the people who are seated in the public Gallery, in particular the young people.

Like previous Senators, I thank Senators Fintan Warfield, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Lynn Ruane for sponsoring the Bill. I think I have spoken about the Bill before and I fully support same. It is important that we again state our commitment to the legislation.

As the Minister of State will be fully aware, the Young Fine Gael movement has adopted a strong line in terms of the legislation. A number of them have contacted me, particularly after the last time we discussed the legislation. Senator Neale Richmond was a great advocate of it in terms of his politics within Young Fine Gael and empowering young people aged 16 and 17 years to have a say. I do not quite know how the matter has got lost in Fine Gael but that is a matter for the party. Senator Richmond was here before and made a good case for the legislation but it never went any further, which is a pity.

It is important that we engage with people, tap into youth and explore diversity. Young people bring something to politics with their rich ideas and different ways of expression. For that matter, every age brings something to politics in terms of the social life of our society and engagement with same. Let us reflect on the fact that a 16 year old can do the following: consent to medical treatment; leave school and enter the workplace or training; be paid and be eligible to pay tax, including the universal social charge, USC, on his or her income; obtain tax credits and welfare benefits in his or her own right; the common age of sexual consent, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is 17 year of age; enter a meaningful and loving relationship; and become a member of a trade union. I have listed some of the things that people of this age can do yet somehow we have a problem with allowing people aged 16 and 17 years of age to engage in the political process.

On 7 March of this year, we discussed the Vótáil 100 committee, the political process and the suffrage movement. I spoke on that occasion and I shall quote the transcript of the debate. I said:

I met a girl outside the gates of Leinster House today. She told me she was 16 years old and that she would love to be in politics.

I know that when she got through the gates she took a photograph of herself standing in front of a little statue of Countess Markievicz. I asked her what stopped her from engaging in politics and said it was important to engage in one's school or college. I like to think that we will be in a position by 2019, when local elections are due to take place, to allow people who are 16 years of age to vote. The Minister of State has an enormous input into this matter due to the fact that his brief is local government and electoral reform. It is not too late for us to do something. If we are focused, committed and determined enough we can ensure that 16 and 17 year olds and, indeed, people who are up to 18 years of age, are able to vote in the local elections that will take place in 2019. We should aim to achieve that goal. I refer to the small margin of people who are currently excluded. There is a long lead in to the local elections and the European elections but we need to get moving. Ultimately, it is good and healthy to engage with all of the people because it will improve the political life of this country. I urge the Minister of State to support the Bill. I want him to set out a constructive pathway that will start this process.

I do not believe what I have heard here this afternoon. Senator Murnane O'Connor is a very good friend of mind and I hold her in high esteem-----

-----but come on. In terms of young people being uninformed, engaged or not engaged, she has suggested that we should talk to teachers, the mammies and the daddies to raise awareness. I presume that when we are finished doing that she hopes we will have a tea party and that we will all sit down to chat a little bit more. For God's sake, we are talking about people who are 16 years of age. If we engage them in politics at 16 years of age then we will have them for life. Why does the Senator think banks go out of their way to set up school banks? They do so because they know that if a child opens a bank account with them then he or she will be loyal and remain a customer for the rest of his or her life.

I am sure that Members who have email addresses will have received numerous emails from youth organisations and individual young people asking for support. The Senator has suggested a committee be set up to discuss this matter. We all know what happens when a committee discusses an issue. The committee produces a camel rather than a horse so a committee would not work.

There is no need for Fianna Fáil to fear the Bill. All Fianna Fáil needs to do is recruit young people of 16 years of age and over, thus providing a future for the party. The same applies to Fine Gael and any other party that wants young people. I can assure Senators that young people want to engage in politics.

Senator Murnane O'Connor is right in what she said about the turnout for elections. I believe the turnout is low because old people like me gave up voting years ago.

Senator Craughwell has not given up.

That is news to the House.

I am delighted that I have provided the House with something to chuckle about. This is really serious; 16 year olds are not children. A couple of weeks ago, we tried to amend the Data Protection Bill to raise the digital age of consent to 16 and the House went berserk. Members said, "No, it should be 13." They are not going to kill us and it is unlikely they will do silly things. They will probably spend a lot more time researching how they will cast their votes than most adults of 18 plus do. Get them young. Get them in there. Get them engaged. Get them to be members of political parties. I am delighted that seems to have brought the Minister of State to life. I assume he will support the Bill given his broad smile.

As he is going to support the Bill, I can sit down and relax for the rest of the afternoon. It is great to see a progressive Minister of State who wants to see a progressive society in which 16 years olds and above vote in European, local and, eventually perhaps, presidential elections, not that I have any great interest in that.

The Senator being the visual aid.

Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. Does the Minister of State remember that old saying from school? Praise the young and they will flourish. Cherish and enfranchise the young, enable, empower and trust them. These are all very modest political requirements for the House. That Seanad Éireann would, on receipt of a carefully considered Bill which has been the subject of consultation, as brought forward by Senators Warfield and Ruane, send it to an obscure, opaque committee somewhere, having seen it kicked to touch at an earlier stage, insults the processes of the House. This is the Seanad and this is the place to table and enact laws. It is also a great slight on those who have worked to put the Bill together and proposed it here this afternoon.

At the earlier debate on the Bill, I noted that a pattern was emerging in the House. I reflected on my remarks at that debate before coming to the House today. It should be clear to a blind man or woman on a galloping horse that it has gone beyond a pattern to become a very clear, overt political stance on the part of Fianna Fáil to oppose any legislation Sinn Féin brings to the House. Sin é. That is it. It does not matter if the legislation reflects that party's own policy or if it is completely in unison with its stated aims. It does not matter if giving 16 year olds the vote is the right thing to do. Fianna Fáil is to oppose it. It is negative, nasty and base politics. So much for new politics. It cannot be denied any longer that this is the stated position.

The Senator is moving away from the section.

I am referring to the committee.

The Senator is just playing. That is what Sinn Féin does.

I ask Senator Murnane O'Connor-----

The Senator does not have to come back in. She has had her say.

Senator Ó Donnghaile without interruption.

Without interruption because sometimes people do not like to hear that they are going to get up and vote against this because that is their party's stated policy. Fianna Fáil has the opportunity with young people in the Gallery. Young people have no doubt because they are engaged in the political process as Senator Craughwell rightly said. The notion that young people are not following this and judging it is wrong.

If Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and others had any sense, they would rush to empower and enfranchise young people. It is a very short window of time before they will have the opportunity at 18 to vote and they will remember who taxed them at 16 and, as Senator Craughwell said, expected them to meet certain conditions in life in terms of their public contribution. They will remember who wanted them to contribute to the State and put their trust in it but who would not return the favour and gratitude. The coalition Government of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would not trust them and empower them. They come in here and give all of the plamás and beal grá about how great it was 100 years ago to enfranchise some women, which it was. At this point in time, however, it is as plain as the nose on one's face that the people driving politics not just in this State but across the country are young people. As it has always been, they are at the fore to demand social change and progress and changes in the law.

It is as simple as I said in the last debate on the matter. Governments of the last ten to 15 years have punished young people. They have been on the receiving end of the worst excesses of economic illiteracy. They have been driven into poverty and the so-called recovery in which they cannot afford a home or child care. They can hardly get a job. The status quo and the establishment are afraid of those young people being empowered and entrusted with their democratic right to vote. I believe fundamentally as a republican in enfranchising and empowering citizens and providing them with equality and rights. If young people are to be expected to contribute to many other aspects of political, social and legislative life in the State, why are they not trusted with the vote? What is the rationale? The parties say they will talk to teachers, youth groups, youth clubs and parents as if young people do not exist outside the classroom, as if they do not have an identity, life, experience and relationships and as if they do not contribute to life and politics. The most basic courtesy we can extend to 16 year olds is to trust them and give them the right to decide on us. I am happy to put myself out in front of 16 year olds if I have the honour and privilege to go forward for election any time in future. I wonder if other potential candidates can say the same.

I thank the Minister of State for his time this afternoon. I am delighted and proud to debate the Bill in the Seanad. I thank Senator Warfield for approaching me way back in July 2016 to co-sponsor the legislation. The right to vote is the most fundamental right a citizen in an active democracy wields. As legislators, it is our responsibility to support and encourage all of our citizens to engage in democracy at all levels. I support strongly the empowerment of young people in all areas of public life.

Irish people between the ages of 16 and 18 have a valuable contribution to make to the State culturally, socially, economically and, indeed, politically. Young people are hugely impacted by political decisions. Decisions made in the Oireachtas around education, employment and infrastructure will impact on the young most of all because it is their future for which we legislate. Under our current laws, however, they are excluded from political decision-making which is why the Bill seeks to make a change. Local government in Ireland is the most accessible form of democracy for young people. Councillors are engaged in their local communities and are familiar to our young people who deserve to be given the chance to elect them. At this critical juncture, we need now more than ever to engage young people in the debate over the future of the European Union. That is why we have tabled this important Bill and it is why we are pressing it further through the Oireachtas.

While the amendments were ruled out of order, I want to speak to them to highlight what their true intention was in terms of Fianna Fáil putting them forward. First, I want to comment briefly on the turnout at elections. It is an odd thing to say a certain demographic should not have the vote because we do not have a turnout in a particular group. If so many 18 year olds do not vote, should none of them vote? If people from a certain demographic, perhaps with low socio-economic backgrounds, have a low turnout, maybe we should take the vote off them all. Just because everyone does not vote, one does not exclude the ones who want to and will, hopefully setting an example for their peers and their friends to follow suit.

I have given the Senator a fair amount of latitude. She should be dealing with the section not the individual amendments.

Everyone else spoke to the amendments. Senator Murnane O'Connor spoke to the amendments.

The Senator is specifically outlining one after the other. The section is what is up for discussion and the amendments have been ruled out of order.

I cannot speak for the last Chairman. I have only been in the Chair for the past few minutes.

The Chairman spoke to the amendments. Is it one rule for Senator Ruane and one for the Acting Chairman? That is poor.

Speaking to the section, the Bill is not going to be supported by Fianna Fáil in one way or another. It is Fianna Fáil policy but I could have torn its amendments apart. It has had 12 months since we last dealt with this, when its members said they needed time to go through the Bill. I wonder what Fianna Fáil has been doing for the past 12 months so that its members cannot consider a Bill that is only a few lines long. The youth wing of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are good enough to go out on the streets to canvass, fundraise and knock on doors to get people to vote for them but they are not good enough to cast a vote. I do not understand what the parties are afraid of and I ask Fianna Fáil, now that their amendments have been ruled out of order, to support the Bill and continue with their promise to reduce the voting age to 16 in local and European elections in 2019.

I remind the House that Senator Murnane O'Connor said, "We support the principle of the Bill but we believe that the proper scrutiny should take place before it goes to Committee Stage." That was a year ago and surely that has been enough time for proper scrutiny. Senator Davitt said, "Fine Gael can discuss whatever it wants to do, for example, sending this matter to a committee, but I do not know why that needs to be the case." However, that is exactly what the party proposes to do today. Senator Wilson said:

[W]hen we resume after Christmas. I give a commitment to this House that if this matter is not put on the agenda by the Government, I will table it on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party.

The party, however, tabled two amendments designed to weaken the legislation and delay this crucial Bill. In the last debate, Senator Horkan said:

I do not want anybody in this Chamber to say Fianna Fáil is not in favour of implementation of this proposal in the fullness of time. We absolutely want it to happen.

However, the party tabled amendments designed to set up a committee with no time limit, and which would clearly not have allowed Fianna Fáil's own manifesto commitment to be realised.

All I ask is that Senators in this House stand by the statements they made the last time we debated this Bill. We have already been forced to wait 12 months due to a Fianna Fáil amendment stalling the Bill as they attempted to support lowering the voting age while delaying every attempt to make it happen in practice. Let us not do that again. Let us empower our young people to participate in politics. We can do it today. We do not need a special committee to write a report telling us what we already know, which is that the strongest and most vibrant democracies are those that include all citizens, young and old. I strongly oppose any more delays to this Bill and I urge Senators to support it.

I commend Senators Warfield and Ruane for bringing this Bill forward. Democracy, as we have known it, is under threat. Governments are out of touch with their citizens and the gap between the citizen, particularly disenfranchised groups such as 16 year olds and 17 year olds and others who are marginalised or not heard, and their governments is fertile ground for the activities of the likes of Cambridge Analytica and its paymasters in the UK, the US and elsewhere. It is truly disturbing.

Having a committee in order to kick this Bill into touch is exactly the kind of antic which turns ordinary people off because they have no idea what it means. They do not know what happens in such processes and they see whatever comes out at the other end as just delaying the Bill. We need to find ways of combatting the manipulative, shadowy forces which are at work and to act urgently to make governments, including our Government, connect to the citizens they seek to serve. One of the changes needed is to expand the franchise and to ensure that everyone is truly heard. That is why I am supporting the vote at 16 Bill today. Let us remember the people who will be given new voting rights if this Bill passes are often already old enough to drive, and until recently to get married, to join the Army and pay income tax. The current state of affairs is taxation without representation, which is something we are all supposed to be against.

If we reflect on the decisions made in these Houses over the past decade, it becomes abundantly clear that the voice and input of young people were absent and that young people bore the brunt of the great recession, as well as the one before it. Their views, their perspectives and their realities were not reflected in these Houses and we were out of touch with them. The ESRI states that one quarter of young people suffer from at least three of the following: income poverty; unable to afford basic goods; financial strain; poor health; mental distress; poor housing; overcrowding; neighbourhood problems; mistrust in institutions, including this one; and lack of social support or feeling safe. In 2012, youth unemployment was over 30% and while the Government has made great progress, today the rate is still twice what it was in 2007. Some 16,000 young people are still long-term unemployed and 90% of them said that being unemployed had had a negative effect on their sense of well-being.

To add insult to injury, jobseeker's allowance for young people was cut from €188 to €100, an act of unforgivable blatant age discrimination. With average room rents of €80 per week, and maybe more, thousands of young people are left with €20 to survive. Those in work face the exploitation of zero-hour contracts or often dangerous food delivery-type jobs. I look in horror at young people on the back of bicycles delivering pizzas and takeaways to the well-heeled. Very often they have no sick benefit if they fall off their bike and injure themselves and that is a huge dereliction of duty which disproportionately affects young people aged 16, 17 or upwards. This is the gig economy.

In this House there is the blight of the unpaid internship, which happens all over the place. Those who wish to study now pay the second highest fees in Europe and significant indebtedness is now the norm for young people. Care leavers have been left to drift with no support and millennials are the first generation to be poorer than their parents since the Great Famine of the 1840s. Security of tenure in housing and affordable housing, let alone owning a home, is beyond the wildest dreams of younger people these days. The least we owe young people is a say, a vote and a voice so that we do not make the mistakes that put young people in that position.

Reducing the voting age could be truly transformative as it is real political reform which would lead to meaningful change, especially at local level. A lot of 16 year olds and 17 year olds are still living at home and it would be transformative in their own communities. I hope we are not too late for the 2019 local elections and we need to act now, support the Bill today and reject any attempts to delay, committees or otherwise.

The first thing that strikes one about the Bill is that it is very simple and short, with only eight or nine lines in it. It is very clear and states that a person shall be entitled to be registered as a European elector in a constituency if he or she has reached the age of 16 years and if, on the qualifying date, he or she was ordinarily resident in that constituency and is either a citizen of Ireland or a national of a member state other than the State. In most circumstances, they would be allowed to vote in European or local elections. Given that it is such a simple and straightforward Bill, it is strange that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil said we need to wait, perhaps for nine months, to think about it. That is about a month for each line. We have done that now and I hope we can demonstrate to the young people in the Gallery, who are all welcome, that we are here to legislate and not to procrastinate.

We are here to support this simple Bill, which, in theory, all political parties are apparently in favour of. I have here the Fianna Fáil document, Engaging the Future. Perhaps it should be called "Engaging the Future In the Future" or "Engaging the Future, but Just Not Now".

In fairness, there is a very good lesson here for the young people in the Gallery. This debate demonstrates how pitiful politics can be at times. I am referring to Fianna Fáil, which tells people that it is in favour of the Bill, but not today. Its document states that it wants to legislate so that young people aged between 16 and 18 can vote in local and European elections next year. We have discovered today that what it really wanted to do was set up a committee to look into the issue in the fullness of time. That is the phrase I use when my son is asking me for a new phone. We know what it means.

Luke Casserly, a member of the Irish Second-Level Students' Union, wrote to me. He made the case much more eloquently than I could in terms of why we need to support the Bill. He said:

I support the lowering of the voting age because I feel we need to empower young people to become actively involved in civic engagement and the political process. I truly and honestly believe that there has never been a time when young people were so impassioned and engaged in their society. Mental health, disability awareness, the eighth amendment and so many more issues prompt young people to write articles, start petitions and take to the streets. It is time to empower these young people and respect them to the degree that we allow them to be equal to everyone else in Ireland.

That is all we are looking to do today. It is a shared Bill between civic engagement and Sinn Féin and we know we have the support of the Labour Party and a range of Independent Members on the issue. According to their policies, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are in favour of the Bill. Let us not make a show of the Chamber today. Let us do what all of us know is the right thing to do, namely, support the Bill on Committee Stage, move it forward and ensure that the people in the Gallery and tens of thousands of others like them have the right to vote this time next year. It is that simple. Let us do the right thing today.

I welcome the Minister of State and I also welcome the young people in the Gallery. I want to speak briefly on the section. I wish to express my disappointment that an important measure may end up being long-fingered. Senators Warfield, Ruane and Mac Lochlainn have done great work in getting the Bill to this stage and they outlined very clearly why the measure is needed. I want to offer my full support. This is a positive and progressive step to expand and improve our democracy and I would not like to see it being delayed.

When we debated this issue in March 2017, it was agreed that the Bill would be paused for nine months to allow Senators and parties more time to deliberate on it. There was a lot of support for the idea in principle across the Chamber, which was fantastic. We were given the space to hear the arguments, look at the details and be ready for the Bill to return today. Approximately one year later, it appears as though the Bill will be needlessly stalled again. How many of those looking to delay the Bill actually used the time available to reach out to young people and youth organisations? In the nine months granted to look at this issue, did anyone sit down with the National Youth Council of Ireland, Foróige, students' unions or the Children's Rights Alliance to hear how the Bill could help to boost youth participation? We owe it to young people to take this issue seriously and I urge my colleagues across the House not to delay and cynically kick this to touch until after the next local elections.

The proposal was discussed at an Oireachtas committees as long ago as 2010. The Constitutional Convention debated and supported the proposal in 2016. That is why the Bill is before us today. There have been years of discussion. I urge colleagues to support the Bill. I appeal especially to Fianna Fáil Senators to support it. In 2017, Fianna Fáil produced a manifesto which explicitly promised to lower the voting age from 18 years to age to 16 in time for the 2019 local elections. It is only right that this promise be kept.

We often speak about youth disengagement from politics and the lack of trust in formal democracy. Political parties failing to live up to clear promises is a root cause of this problem. We cannot say one thing and do another. If we do, distrust in the system is an obvious response.

Young people are interested, capable and want to participate. Ireland can join a growing number of European states, including Austria, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Malta and Norway, which have implemented or trialled a voting age of 16 years. In particular, the enthusiasm and record turnout level of the UK's first 16 year old voters in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum showed what can be achieved when we trust and empower young people. In response, the European Parliament officially backed voting at 16 years of age for the first time and urged member states to consider it for the 2019 European elections. We now have the opportunity to be ready for 2019 and to allow young people across Ireland to vote in local and European elections. I urge colleagues to support the Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State. I want to tell the young people in the Gallery that I am the only Independent Senator in the Seanad. Every other Independent Senator is part of a group. Within that group, there is a tendency to speak for, with, by and around the group. I am a completely Independent Senator and not, as somebody in Sinn Féin tried to point out, a person who cannot speak for herself. That was co-ordinated into speaking against Sinn Féin because that is the way we all work in here. It is not true.

The Senator should speak to the section and leave the teachers to teach the students.

It is very important to state the case of which one is certain. I find the level of unhappiness and joylessness here fascinating. It appears that if one does not get the vote at 16 and 17 years of age, life will never be the same. In some ways there is a lack of joy here.

I say a resounding and echoing "No" to the vote at 16 and 17 years of age. It is fine at 18 years of age. Four or five years ago, some of those in the Gallery were 12 years of age. I am against the proposal.

I received lots of brilliantly written emails from many students during the week. I am not really interested in what happens in other countries. One of the greatest weaknesses is when we copy other countries. We should be entirely independent in the way we do things. We are also not a students' union and do not think like one. We are the Upper House of the Oireachtas and we have to think about the common good.

I suggest that students stay away from politics. It is quite sacrilegious of me to say that. I suggest that, instead, they should get on with the creative and imaginative things I know they are brilliant at and continue to get on with their education, travel, arts, romance, music, expression and sport.

The Senator is really pushing the boat out.

I already told Senator Ruane to maintain the line.

I am just about to conclude. When one is young, one should get on with youth.

I have already told one Senator that she has to stick to the section. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has had quite a lot of latitude. She should stick to the section.

I am against the vote for those aged under 18 years. The Bill will not get my vote. I will not circumvent that. I am against it and I will not be going to a committee or believing in committees. I advise the students to stay away from politics and get on with their lives because they can create their lives quicker than they think when they are over 18 years of age.

I was going to suggest that the Senator speak through the Chair-----

I was speaking to the section.

-----in line with Standing Orders.

I strongly support the Bill because of my direct experience. I had hoped Senator O'Donnell might be able to stay for a few minutes.

Sinn Féin thinks I have no sense of independence. I am not going to stay and listen to that.

The Senator should have a little respect for the speaker.

Perhaps the Senator can read the transcript later to see what I have to say.

A number of years ago the Donegal Youth Council was established. If the Minister of State speaks to his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, he will discover that he was one of the people who advocated the council back in the day. It has been a tremendous success. Students elected their representatives from various secondary schools across the county onto the youth council and then those councillors attended local area council meetings and submitted to us the issues of concern. It could have been mental health, supports around drugs or, as often was the case, resource centres. These were issues that were pertinent to young people, and the issues they brought to our attention as councillors came from their fellow students. I am immensely proud of it, and every time I engaged with their elected councillors I made it clear to them that they did not come to us as anything other than equals, that they had a mandate, just like we did, and that they had a right to put their issues on the table and then come back in a number of months' time to see whether those issues had been addressed. That is an excellent model. Those young people in secondary school are engaging with the political and democratic process. They are realising that they have rights and the capacity to raise those rights and to ensure they are acted upon in their community. It was empowering. It was the right way to go.

I found myself a number of years later watching the young people take part in the debate on the independence referendum in Scotland, discussing whether or not they would vote for independence. It was the first time, as the Minister of State knows, that 16 and 17 year olds had the ability to participate. I found it inspirational to see these young people so well informed on such a huge, profound issue as the future constitutional position of their country and arguing either side of that debate. We must stop patronising young people. We must stop talking to them as if we know what it is like to be a 16, 17, 18 or 19 year old. I am 44. I am totally disconnected from these matters. People say I am young. I am not young; I am middle-aged.

I do not know what it is to be a young person, to grow up in the social media age, to be bombarded with imagery of what one should be, what one should speak like or how one should dance or any of those things, just like the middle-aged people in my time did not know what it was like when I was a teenager.

The Minister of State is a thoughtful guy. I have always thought so in all my times engaging with him. I ask him to look at the potential of this in the context of the local and European elections next year. Imagine the exciting opportunity it will present to engage with these young people I have seen who have continued to be elected in my time and since in the local authorities in Donegal and all across the country, because of course these frameworks are replicated across the State. This is a really exciting opportunity to say to young people who are finishing their secondary school education, who have been through their transition year, who are thinking about their future, going into college and what they are going to do with their lives, that they can now participate in the process of local government and European elections. I hope they will elect Deputies and Senators at some stage in the future.

They cannot vote in general elections.

I said "in the future".

Senator Murnane O'Connor, please.

I need to come back in on that point.

The Senator will have her opportunity.

I said, just to calm-----

Senator Murnane O'Connor will have an opportunity to contribute. I ask her to let the speaker finish.

To calm Senators down, I said "in the future". There are many things for which we have aspirations for the future, but today we are debating the local and European elections and the ability of young people to participate in them. Senator Murnane O'Connor, if you ring your colleagues on Donegal County Council this evening and ask them what they think of the Donegal Youth Council, what they think of the calibre of the young people on it who have now gone on to be leaders in their own right in society-----

I ask the Senator to address his comments through the Chair.

Of course. I was interrupted.

The Acting Chairman will appreciate why I responded. I will just say that this is an opportunity for us in this Chamber to stop patronising young people, to involve them in a real way in the political process and, perhaps, God forbid, to capture the imagination of young people across the State and, in a tangible way, empower them to be involved in who represents them at local and European elections. These are our future - there is that word again - leaders. Let us stop patronising them.

I am delighted, on behalf of the Green Party, to support the Bill brought forward by Senators Warfield and Mac Lochlainn and the Civil Engagement Senator, Lynn Ruane. It is perfect timing for the people of Ireland who are 16 years of age. I have full confidence in their ability to process information and vote in European and local elections. The school years of transition year, fifth year and sixth year are a perfect time to bring our young people of Ireland into the whole process of voting. Therefore, I cannot understand why Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will stop this process or why, as some of my colleagues have said, they will kick it to touch and throw it back into another committee. What exactly is the problem?

I believe in the people of Ireland, the students, those involved in so many different committees, those who campaign and go out door to door canvassing for different parties and Independents at the age of 16 and those who went out around my home town of Tramore - my own daughters, in fact - at the age of 15 and 16, canvassing for marriage equality. I urge the House to give the people, the students, those at the age of 16 the choice and the chance and allow them to vote in the European and local elections. I really do not understand what some Members' problem is. The Green Party fully supports this legislation, and I hope Fianna Fáil will consider its position and support it also.

The Minister of State has kindly agreed to allow two speakers who have spoken before to come back in. Senator Murnane O'Connor is first.

A political battle was made of the Bill today, particularly by Senator Ruane. I actually complimented them all on this issue they are bringing forward. I was a councillor for 18 years and worked with young people. I am a mother of four children. I canvassed from a very young age so I know exactly what I am talking about and I represent everyone. Senator Ruane asked whom we are representing. I have just given statistics of elections I have gone through. I fought five local and general elections. I do not know whether you have ever been through any such elections. Have you fought a local or general election, Senator?

I ask Senator Murnane O'Connor to address her comments through the Chair.

I am just wondering, for clarification, as someone who has gone through elections and canvassed-----

I vote. This is not about running for election.

It is about voting.

I brought up elections as an example, where you went-----

Senator Murnane O'Connor, please.

This is about voting.

I just want to clarify-----

We are not in the business of allowing cross-----

Absolutely. I am just clarifying-----

-----so I ask the Senator to address her comments this way.

I just want to clarify. Fianna Fáil supports a referendum in 2019. We will support 16 and 17 year olds in general elections, local elections and European elections. As a mother and as someone who has worked with the public for 20 years and with ógra and other groups, I will 100% support them. That is not the issue. I have said we in Fianna Fáil will work with this. We have made such a commitment in our manifesto. However, we feel that a general election is every bit as important as local elections and European elections and we will get the three together and deliver this to the 16 and 17 year olds in Ireland. I hear Sinn Féin-----

In the future, not now.

-----going on about this, that and the other and that everyone is against them. That is not true.

Fianna Fáil supports a referendum in 2019. We will support a referendum to get the youth of Ireland to vote. I am giving that commitment. I was a councillor for 18 years and have been a Senator for two years. I knocked on doors from the age of 14 or 15. I will always work with Ógra Fianna Fáil and always have. Like everyone else here, I have gone into schools and given talks supporting politics. There is no point playing the blame game here. How does Senator Ruane know when a referendum will take place? We have said that we will put this to the people in a referendum. We will support young people having a vote in local and Europeans election. I will go back to my party today and clarify that point.

Senator O'Connor could give them rights today.

I will say it again. Fianna Fáil does not support 16 year olds voting in the 2019 local elections. If it did, it would support this Bill today. Having a referendum next year does not fulfil their manifesto promise for a vote in local elections in 2019. Holding a referendum next year does not fulfil the manifesto. By the time the referendum happens and legislation is enacted, the local elections will be long over.

How does Senator Ruane know that?

Senator O'Connor should look at the timeline. We have actually spent the past 12 months looking at this issue, unlike Fianna Fáil, which needed 12 months to look at absolutely nothing.

(Interruptions).

It is true. I never engage in party rivalry, but it is not fair to stand here and list off commitments for general elections. Being involved in politics is not about standing for election. That is for a very small minority of people in this country. I wish to counteract the patronising contribution that addressed young people a few minutes ago.

I want it clarified that it was not me. Senator Ruane must clarify that.

I am not referring to Senator Murnane O'Connor. I said "a few minutes ago". Senator Murnane O'Connor will not give people the vote at 16, but people in this Chamber will interrupt all day, like children. They will not wait for their turn to speak.

Please, we are trying to have a debate here. We cannot have it if we shout at one another. All comments must be directed at the Chair.

A few minutes ago, we heard Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell discourage people from getting involved in politics. That is such a negative message to send to young people. It comes from a position where politics does not affect one's life very much. However, if someone comes from a background like mine, where political decisions to which people do not have access literally shape the environment without them being able to contribute to it, politics is very important. I learned that at a very young age. Maybe if one has the ability to focus solely on one's hobbies or education, then politics seems like some sort of luxury but for people who are outside the loop of politics, without access to some of those things, politics is what will decide their fate for ever more. It will determine if they are able to access education in the first place. It will determine whether they have a sports ground on which to pursue the hobbies Senator O'Donnell talks about. We do not have the same access, and politics was very important to me.

When I was 13, I remember standing out on a street after my friend was knocked down by a bus. We had experienced a few deaths leading up to that incident. There were no ramps on that road. It was the first time I felt really exercised and conscious that I needed politicians to do something. We needed ramps, and we protested for three days. The protest was made up of children. There was not an adult, 18 year old or 25 year old in sight. We were aged ten, 11, 12 or 13 years old, and we barricaded that ring road for days until somebody put ramps in to stop children from dying on it.

Young people need to be able to have a say in their community. We, the young people, got those ramps built. In the schools, we got the uniforms changed for those who did not want to wear skirts. My 11 year old is educating her class in school on the issue of trans people's rights. I would trust her with my vote more than some people in this room, and they are elected. She is 11 years old. It is very patronising to tell me I should discourage young people from getting involved in politics. I know this is verging on a rant, but it really upset me.

Politics is about activism, involvement and community. It is about having a say and being heard. It is about being able to be part of a decision-making process. It does not mean being among the lucky few that get to stand in this House. We are the minority, and I reiterate that. Politics takes place across the country in many forms, at many levels. It is not all about elections or youth wings of parties. It is about people being enfranchised, empowered and able to make change in their own lives, their communities and their families. We should never ever discourage that.

I do not want the time taken up to be an impediment to the passage of this very important Bill so I will forfeit my time to the Minister of State and hope we can proceed.

I will try to address each of the Senators individually. It is indeed a short piece of legislation and I commend the Senators who produced the Bill, namely, Senators Warfield, Ruane and Mac Lochlainn, who is young, despite his protestations earlier as I was trying to interrupt him. The only interruption I made was to say that his beard makes him look young.

The Government and I support the reduction of the voting age to 16, but we oppose this legislation on the basis of the decision made last September to publish a list of upcoming referendums. One of these, on the eighth amendment, is to be held this summer. Two are scheduled for the fall of this year, on blasphemy and on the provisions in the Constitution regarding women, respectively. At the same time, there is the possibility of plebiscites in Dublin and Cork with regard to directly elected mayors. The next scheduled referendum concerns the reduction of the voting age, and this is due to coincide with the local and European elections in 2019.

I wish that I could say, particularly to the people in the Visitors Gallery, that it would happen sooner. I made a decision approximately 20 years ago, roughly around this time, to stand for local government. I was 19 years of age. My parents, friends and family thought I was absolutely mad, but it was the correct decision for me and I do not regret it for one minute. The Acting Chairman spoke about parties getting people involved. I joined my party when I was 15. I was not a fundraiser, but I was a leaflet dropper, canvasser and campaigner.

I commend most of the contributions. I could not disagree with much of what was said by Senators across the House. Senator Warfield mentioned 29 March 2017, when this Bill was on Second Stage. The Government decision to outline when the list of eight referendums would be held was made on 26 September. We could all argue about the timing of different referendums, but the ones that are scheduled prior to the voting age are equally important measures.

One of the privileges I have, after spending nine years as a Member of this House, is the assistance of officials who help me in my role as Minister of State. I had their assistance in looking back at the results of the questions on the issue of voting age that were put at the Constitutional Convention. This Chamber, including the people who are watching and those in the Visitors Gallery, is not very reflective of what the convention said, if we are honest. It said that 52 of those who voted were in favour of reducing the voting age, 47 were not, and one person expressed no opinion. This is central to the legislation we are discussing. Overwhelmingly, the convention said that if the voting age is reduced to 16, it should be reduced for every election and not just for local and European elections. Some 68% of the members present at the Constitutional Convention favoured that and only 28% favoured what we are discussing today, a partial reduction.

The Minister of State took my spiel at the end.

I have a little disagreement with Senator Murnane O'Connor. On the issue of this being put to a committee, I note that the committee has happened. The committee was the Constitutional Convention.

(Interruptions).

We cannot have cross-floor engagement here.

The next stage is to hold a referendum.

To deal with what other Senators said in their contributions, I have spoken about what the Acting Chairman said. There are similar pieces of legislation in the Dáil on extending voting rights. I disagree with Senator Gavan in the sense that while his point about this being a simple piece of legislation is absolutely right, it is very fundamental because we are speaking about changing the register of electors on which every campaign and election is based. The last time this area was broached was in terms of electronic voting, and whatever we might think about the electoral process at times, the general public guards jealously the integrity of the process. I am not saying that increasing the register would necessarily compromise that integrity, but it would be a significant change and it is incorrect to describe it as modest or small.

Senator Boyhan said I should be aware of what is happening in Young Fine Gael. It is a long time since I was directly aware, I have to say.

Senator Black stated she was in favour of the Bill, but I want to point out again the Constitutional Convention, to which numerous Senators including Senator Black referred, specifically in its vote went against this proposal. Its point overwhelmingly was there should be a reduction across the board rather than just for European and local elections. There is an issue with regard to whether 16 should be the age. In principle I favour, as does the Government, the reduction of the voting age, but all of these numbers are arbitrary in a sense. Where did 18 come from originally? Why is it used for so many things now? What special status does somebody who is 18 have, that somebody who is 17 years and 364 days does not have? Lawmakers and legislators make decisions to draw a particular line, and 18, 16 or 17 are the ages at which certain coming of age events happen, such as getting a driver's licence and being able to have a drink, vote or enter a committed legally based relationship.

Senator Boyhan asked whether this had disappeared within Fine Gael or the Government, but it has not. The Taoiseach took office last summer, and in September the Government decision was this should be listed as one of the referendums to be held. As I have said, a number of other equally serious topics are to go to a referendum.

Senator Ruane gave one of the best speeches I have ever heard. I disagree with her on virtually everything in terms of her economic outlook, but with regard to her reasoning as to why young people should be involved in politics, I hope some people are watching what is going on in the Seanad and have seen what she said, because the decisions made here and at local authority level, mostly at local level, have such an impact on the lives of young people as well as those of older people.

I am not sure whether Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is sometimes provocative. The point she was trying to make, perhaps, was that young people should not necessarily devote all of their time to party politics, but politics is a very different thing and she gave as fine a description of this as anybody could on ensuring the views of younger people are represented.

Senator Kelleher spoke about taxation without representation. Alas, it exists. Even for a right-winger, Fine Gaeler like me, I have long been a supporter of a points system for citizenship. Thousands of people in this country pay a lot of tax and do not have a vote because residency does not entitle people to a Dáil vote. They might have a vote in a local or European election if they are from the EU. The principle of taxation without representation exists, but I accept the other points she made. She spoke about zero-hour contracts and the jobs younger people do. There is legislation on changing the rules and outlawing zero-hour contracts, which is to be greatly welcomed.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan spoke about her family involvement in politics at 15 and 16. Other Senators have also spoken. The position is the Government has made a decision this referendum should be held in 2019. The reason we feel we cannot support this legislation is if 16 and 17 year olds have a vote in the next local and European elections in 2019 and the general public comes out and votes against it in a referendum on the same day, while it would not necessarily be open to legal challenge, because the Oireachtas has the power to legislate on the voting age in terms of European and local elections, it would just be wrong to have a situation where people who are 16 and 17 have a vote that day but the general public might say something quite different in a referendum. This is the position the Government is taking. I do not think it is kicking it down the road. I think it is a logical position for the Government to take.

Senator Craughwell has indicated he wants to come in but everybody has already spoken on this.

A number of people have spoken twice. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to do this.

That is why I am indulging the Senator.

I apologise to the guests I brought in for the condescending way in which they were spoken to by one of my colleagues. I trust them a damn sight more than I trust many of those my own age.

The Minister of State is one of the more progressive guys around here, and it must be absolutely gutting him to sit there, having read out what he just did-----

We are on section 1 now, and we will keep the personal out of it.

Voting at 16 in local and European elections, if the legislation were passed now, would do two things. It would engage 16 and 17 year olds now. It would also give some statistical data to go on as to the overall engagement of 16 and 17 year olds. The Minister of State did not kick it down the road. He kicked it down the motorway so far I cannot see it any more. Promises of referendums are nothing but promises that blow in the wind. We make promises in here, in manifestoes and in all sorts of things all the time. This is a simple piece of legislation that would offend nobody, but perhaps it is scaring the living daylights out of the traditional political parties who might have to face a young electorate in 2019.

Why are they opposing it?

All the polls show our parties are going extremely well with young people.

This is good politics. It is good to engage young people. I taught young people for 25 years. They are an eye-opener. They are the leaders of tomorrow and the only way to get them involved is to get them young and keep them.

Change that phrase "get them young". It just-----

Throw party caution to the wind. I ask the Minister of State to stand up again and tell us he has reconsidered this and he will go ahead and accept the Bill. He would do himself a massive amount of good, and perhaps even be Taoiseach in 2020.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 18.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • O'Sullivan, Grace.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Ruane and Fintan Warfield; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Question declared lost.
SECTION 2
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

We all think about local democracy, schools, communities and the young people who came forward calling for gun control following the mass shooting in the high school in Parkland in Florida. The latter group were taking on the most redundant stereotypes of young people as apathetic and stuck on smartphones and they were the adults in their community in that situation. They are in conversation around lowered voting ages across the United States.

Senator Bacik mentioned the Vótáil 100 events taking place this year and on 17 April the Seanad Chamber will play host to a debate among transition year students as part of the events. We would all support such an event and we should dwell on the irony of inviting young people to this Chamber as part of a suffrage programme while trying to deny them their suffrage. Young people are mature enough to debate societal issues in their Parliament but we are telling them not to come anywhere near us if they want voting rights or to truly have their say.

Senator Craughwell mentioned the promises of referenda but the referendum to lower the age at which a citizen can run for President was one of the greatest defeats of any referendum in the history of this State. If the Government really wanted to pass that referendum in 2019 it should pass this Bill today, and follow Malta's example, where they lowered the voting age for local and European elections two years ago and have now moved to lower it across all elections.

It is great to have a good debate and we are all making sure that 16 year olds and 17 year olds get to vote. It is time for the much-promised referendum on reducing the voting age to 16 or 17. We must look at the voting age in other countries. In Austria, only 16 year olds who are working can vote and in 2015, 16 and 17 year olds in Scotland were granted the vote for local and Scottish elections. They had been allowed to vote in the previous year's referendum on independence, with a claimed turnout of at least 75%.

In many South American countries voting reforms were taken in tandem with education reforms. We must start with education and give the power of knowledge to our young people so that, one day, they might use it. We need to introduce political studies into primary schools and offer it as an exam subject in the secondary curriculum. I was delighted to hear of two primary schools in my constituency, Bennekerry national school and the Educate Together school, holding their inaugural student council meetings last week with students, aged between eight and 13 years old, elected by their peers. I am told that some of them could be budding politicians.

Our 16 year olds and 17 year olds are the future and Sinn Féin needs to realise that we all know how capable they are of voting.

We all have a different point of view, but we all know - and this has to be clarified in particular for Sinn Féin - that young people, 16 and 17 year olds, are capable to vote. This is why we say that our young people need to be encouraged, we need to help them and make sure we have conversations, and we need to educate them.

I am aware there has been some disappointment, which I can understand, but perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan will confirm a point for me. A referendum is supposed to be in line for next May; a referendum for young people of that age group of 16 and 17 to vote. Is this referendum going to happen? I guarantee that Fianna Fáil and I will knock on doors about this issue to make sure these young people will get the vote. We will then definitely look at local elections and European elections. The young people today deserve to vote in local, general and European elections. If Sinn Féin was of the same mind it would be making sure, from today, that the referendum is held next year. We in Fianna Fáil will work to make sure there is a referendum next year and that the young people of Ireland who are our future, our young budding Presidents, our young Taoisigh and our future Ministers will get the choice and they will be able to vote in the three elections.

One cannot become President until the age of 35. This is an important point given what was said previously. I am aware that this issue was looked at in an earlier referendum, but in the spirit of the topic under discussion today it may be something we could look at moving forward.

I could reiterate nearly everything I said in my last contribution about the semantics of the aspiration to give young people the vote for local government elections but I will not. It applies right across the board. I am for giving young people the vote at the age of 16 in all elections. Sinn Féin brought forward a Bill in the last Dáil that sought to enfranchise all Irish citizens with a vote in presidential elections. Part of the Bill proposed to lower the voting age in presidential elections to the age of 16. Sinn Féin is consistent in this and we have put our money where our mouths are in the limited capacity we have in both Houses, to try to ensure people from the age of 16 have the right to be full and equal participants as we seek to tax them and seek to impose upon them laws that are created in this House, which would impact on their lives while we would not trust them to have a vote in return.

While I support the lowering of the voting age across the board, local government elections are probably the front face of politics and they are probably the level at which most people - not just young people - engage with elected representatives. During this debate reference was made to the Youth Forum in Belfast, which does a fantastic job. It is very active and sometimes it puts the elected representatives to shame with the passion, energy, commitment and drive it brings to campaigns and important issues in the city. The Youth Forum really inspires me. There is a notion of béalghrá and platitudes towards young people. The previous contribution was one of the most dishonest political sentiments I have heard expressed in the House. The position is clear for all to see. It is on the record so I will not get into a back and forth with Senator Murnane O'Connor about it; to be honest I actually feel a wee bit sorry for her as a colleague. The Senator has been left in here to fight the so-called good fight on her own. It is telling as to where Fianna Fáil's heads are at in this regard that they cannot come in to stand by the Senator and to try to justify the stance taken today and previously.

I will now turn to the sentiment of the Bill. Young people should have the vote. It is right. I expressed this view earlier. Young people are energised and they are engaged on the political issues of the day, be it at international, national or local level. This Bill seeks to empower young people in the first instance at local government elections. I was 25 years of age when I was appointed as Belfast's youngest Lord Mayor. I think I was 20 or 21 when I first stood in an Assembly election in the North, for Belfast East, in 2007. Young people are engaged, they have been engaged and they will be engaged as we move forward. We have seen this over recent referendum campaigns in this State and I am sure that we will certainly see it in the upcoming referendum campaigns.

As I said earlier, it is about trusting young people. It is not about coming in to the House and giving it the tired old clichés or kicking it down the lane, as we have heard some Members profess. In the spirit of republican politics, this is about enfranchising citizens, empowering and enabling people and giving them a full and equal say in the life of their State and their politics.

What we have heard today is highly disingenuous in respect of young people. It is insulting. I ask people to not insult the intelligence of young people. We speak about encouraging and helping young people but we are not listening to them. We are certainly not hearing them. They say that they do not want a referendum; they want to have the votes. We have the power to do that here and now, and we are not doing it. By not doing that we say to them that we do not trust or respect them - end of story. One should not insult their intelligence with a promise that something will happen in the future.

There is a practical aspect to people having a vote at the age of 16 and 17, especially in rural areas. If a young person goes on the electoral register at the age of 16 while he or she still at school and still at the home address, there is a better chance of that person voting as he or she goes through the life cycle. We should not be afraid of it but there is a fear. Why will people not change things? It is often because they are afraid of it. The fear comes from possibility that the status quo might change and the order of society might, in some way, change to cause discomfort to those who have all the power. As a mother of a 14 year old and a 16 year old it really disheartens me today to hear these are other young people being patronised around this issue. It is very plain and simple; young people should be trusted to vote and people should be encouraged to vote and have a say in their society. Otherwise one should forget about it and rather than giving them the words and they should simply be told it is not going to be done. One should at least be honest.

The section is very simple. It proposes to extend voting for local elections. It is three lines in all. Once again, I ask Members to consider the fact that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael consider this Bill so onerous that they wanted us to wait nine months, nine months ago, for these nine lines of a Bill. Now they want to push the boat out again. They are very clear in saying to the young people "we are in favour of you having a right to vote, but just not yet". This is the same as saying "until you are 18".

I commend the Minister of State. While I disagree with the responses he has given to the House, I acknowledge that he has responded to all of the points made. This is a refreshing change. I smiled when the Minister of State described himself as a right-wing Fine Gael member. There is no other kind.

Would that there were.

I genuinely feel sorry for my Fianna Fáil colleague, Senator Murnane O'Connor because she has been put in here to defend the indefensible today. It is absolutely appalling.

The Senator contradicts what is actually in the party's policy document, which commits Fianna Fáil to legislating for voting in the 2019 local and European elections. We have it in black and white. The party is "engaging the future" but not just yet.

I urge those young people who are here today to go out and tell people what happened here. Tell people which Members stood up for their rights, who did not and who played cynical party politics; they are sitting over there.

I reiterate that we will oppose this section. I do not want to repeat the reason I gave initially but I will re-emphasise one of them. The whole basis for this discussion, and for the numerous Private Members' Bills in both Houses, is the decision of the Convention on the Constitution with regard to reducing the voting age. The vote of the convention was 52 members in favour, 47 against with one abstention. I believe the flavour of the debate here has not been reflective of the public opinion.

I do not share Senator Warfield's pessimism that a referendum on lowering the voting age would necessarily be lost. He spoke about lowering the age at which a citizen can run for President, and other Members also referenced that. A proper campaign could be fought on that issue and people are free to make up their own minds on that question.

I would refer to the results of the vote on the subject of this legislation at the Constitutional Convention, namely, the splitting of voting ages with a different voting age for local elections, European elections and Dáil elections. The results of the vote at the convention were 68 in favour of a common voting age for all elections, 28 in favour of different voting ages for them and five abstentions.

I advise Senator Murnane O'Connor that the referendum that will be held this May is on the eighth amendment. The other amendment is to be held the following May.

Yes. The following May, in 2019.

The proposal, as approved by the Government on 26 September last, is that a referendum on reducing the voting age and a referendum on reducing the time in which a person can get a divorce would be held together. I hope I am not coming across as patronising.

What Senator Mac Lochlainn said earlier about older people pretending to be younger and knowing what younger people want, struck a chord with me. I tend to agree with him on that. However, we have an onus to be honest with people. It would be unconscionable for any Government to vote now to reduce the voting age in marked contravention of the vote at the Constitutional Convention on this question which said that there should be a common voting age across all elections. There is also the possibility that a future referendum might overturn that decision. Whoever will be in government at the time will act to implement the result of any referendum on the voting age. I am sure the Oireachtas as a whole will act to do so, but until that referendum is held, to hold European and local elections, which would have voters of 16 and 17 years of age casting a ballot on the same day that the public might make a different decision would be completely unsatisfactory to say the least. I am not disputing the legitimacy of the arguments that have been made.

Senator Warfield spoke about the involvement of secondary school students. It is a matter of luck in terms of the year one is born and when one gets a vote. The age of 18 or 16 are arbitrary. There are plenty of 15 year olds who are interested. My political awakening happened when I was eight years of age and Garret FitzGerald signed the Anglo Irish Agreement. I decided at that age that I wanted to be a politician but I was a particularly weird child. My first vote was in the 1997 general election when I was doing my leaving certificate. The vote on the Good Friday Agreement, which took place very shortly after that, was my second vote and I was a secondary school student at the time. Even under our current system, secondary school students have a vote, but that is not the point. The principle is whether the voting age should be reduced. A decision has been made that this question should be put to the public in 2019.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 20.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Dolan, John.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • O'Sullivan, Grace.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Ruane and Fintan Warfield; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.
Question declared lost.

As we have now exceeded the time allocated for this matter, I ask Senator Warfield to report progress.

I report progress.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.