The campaign for Votes at 16 will get a major boost today as senators debate a bill to lower the voting age in local and European elections.
Senator Fintan Warfield (Sinn Féin) will be presenting the bill to the Seanad at 5pm on Wednesday, March 29th. He is proposing to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in elections for local councillors and members of the European Parliament.
Today’s Seanad discussion represents the first step on the road to the law being changed, but only if a majority of senators (31 or more) vote in favour. You can let your views be known by emailing [email protected] to contact all members of the Seanad, or by tweeting on the #voteat16 hashtag.
Voting rights for 16 and 17 year olds have been a matter of debate in Ireland ever since the voting age was lowered from 21 in 1972. Campaigners in favour see it as the next logical step in expanding who gets a say in the system.
The European Parliament already supports the idea of voting at 16, though it’s up to each member state of the EU to decide whether they want to bring it in. Scotland recently became one of the first countries to open up the vote to 16 year olds, who turned out in huge numbers (75%) for their referendum on leaving the United Kingdom.
The National Youth Council has been pushing for this for a number of years. They point out that the best way for young people to learn about democracy and politics is for them to participate directly. They also point to problems in the current system of votes at 18, which expects people to register to vote at a time when they could be distracted by the Leaving Cert, moving out from home or starting in college.
Evidence also suggests that if people are allowed and encouraged to vote early in life, they are far more likely to develop a lifelong habit of making sure they have their say.