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3 April 2017 Edition

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Seanad Bill to lower voting age to 16

• Lynn Ruane and Fintan Warfield

‘The referendums for Scottish independence and marriage equality represent a reality that young people are at the cutting edge of change’ – Senator Fintan Warfield

SENATOR FINTAN WARFIELD is using Sinn Féin Private Member’s Time to bring forward legislation to reduce the voting age in local government and European Parliament elections to 16.

The Bill was being discussed as An Phoblacht goes to print.

In 2015, the European Parliament officially endorsed a voting age of 16 for European Parliament elections and asked member states to consider the proposal. 

The European Parliament passed a joint report from MEPs on reforming EU electoral law and voted in favour of giving votes to 16- and 17-years-olds.  

As well as lowering the voting age to 16, the MEPs’ report included a broad package of proposals that included electronic voting and voting rights for EU citizens living abroad.

Senator Warfield said that Sinn Féin’s Electoral (Voting at 16) Bill 2016 aims to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 for local and European elections. 

“This Bill is timely in advance of the 2019 local and European elections, particularly given an official endorsement by the European Parliament to support voting at 16 in European Parliament elections and a recommendation of the Constitutional Convention in 2013,” he said.

“The referendum for Scottish independence and the referendum here in Ireland for marriage equality represent a reality that young people are at the cutting edge of change,” the Sinn Féin senator said.

“Their voices must begin to be heard by our political representatives who at times have proven themselves to be out of touch with young people who, in turn, struggle to hold their political representatives to account. 

“Only by widening the political franchise can we guarantee that the rights of young people stay firmly on the agenda of politicians.”

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He said that Sinn Féin is serious about legislating for the rights of young people and he is hoping for cross-party support, particularly given the longstanding commitment to this issue by the National Youth Council of Ireland and many other youth organisations.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane, who is seconding the Bill, said:

“It’s a sad fact that it is young people who are most affected by political decisions taken today but have no voice in who makes those decisions for them. Inclusion of Irish citizens between the ages of 16 and 18 in the democratic process is the only way this will ever change.

“This Bill is a crucial first step in realising a stronger and more vibrant democratic contract between the Irish people and our European political representation and local government structures.

“Reducing the voting age for local government is vital to ensure the full engagement of young people with local politics and their local communities. Moreover, during this crucial period for the future of the European Union, we need young people to have a voice in deciding our future role in a post-Brexit EU.

“The Government have recently demonstrated a commitment to broadening democratic participation, with the recent announcement of the referendum to extend Presidential voting rights to our Diaspora. In the same spirit, we ask that they ensure the speedy passage of this legislation through the Oireachtas.”

The European Youth Forum has said it strongly believes that giving the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds “would empower them and truly engage young people in the democratic process from an early age”. 

The European Youth Forum is the platform of youth organisations in Europe, representing 100 youth organisations, including National Youth Councils and international non-governmental youth organisations.

It said:

“Paired with comprehensive citizenship education in schools, votes at 16 can help instill a habit of voting at a younger age and boost lifelong participation rates.

“The right to vote is a major part of the democratic process and is a key recommendation of the Youth Forum’s #YouthUp campaign, which aims to rethink politics to engage and include young people.”

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