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.