Debate on lowering voting age put on hold for nine months

By Mary Dennehy

Senator Fintan Warfield has accused Fianna Fail and Fine Gael of working together to “block” proposed legislation that would lower the voting age for Local and European Parliament elections to 16.

A former Mayor of South Dublin County, Senator Warfield, who is originally from Templeogue, is bringing forward an amendment bill titled Electoral (Voting at 16) Bill 2016 –which, if passed through both houses of the Oireachtas, would reduce the voting age for Local and European Parliament elections.

Ballot Box stock free

The Bill is being seconded by Dublin Independent Senator Lynn Ruane, who is from Tallaght.

However, the Government proposed an amendment to freeze the bill for nine-months, an amendment which the Seanad voted 29-21 in favour of on Wednesday evening, March 29.  

The amendment, which will delay consideration of the Bill until December 2017, was also supported by Fianna Fail – despite the party including a commitment in its 2016 General Election manifesto to reduce, on a trial basis, the voting age from 18 to 16 for the 2019 Local Elections.

Senator Warfield, who is Sinn Fein’s spokesperson for the Arts, Youth Affairs and LGBTQI Rights, said: “In a bizarre turn of events, Fianna Fail claimed that they support the Bill in ‘principle’ but supported a Government amendment to delay the Bill until 2018, making it impossible to enact in time for the 2019 Local and European elections and, in essence, voting against their own party policy to appease Fine Gael.

“Equally, Fine Gael have supported lowering the voting age to 16 in the European Parliament.

“The Constitutional Convention also supported lowering the voting age for all elections.”

He added: “Despite the Bill being initiated in July 2016, both parties felt they needed more time to consider the debate.

“I am calling on both parties to truly engage with stakeholders and return the Bill in January 2018 for its speedy implementation.”

Speaking about the amendment, a Fine Gael party spokesperson is quoted saying: “This would allow for further consideration to be given to the issue of reducing the voting age to 16.

“Support of this Bill would be premature at the present time…[and] for example it would create a divide between those who can vote at local and European elections and those eligible to vote at local, general and presidential elections.”

The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) has “expressed disappointment” after the Seanad voted in favour of the amendment.

James Doorley, NYCI Deputy Director said: “Democracy delayed is democracy denied - and with this amendment the Government has kicked the can down the road on this issue yet again.

“The timing is particularly frustrating as losing nine months will make it very difficult for any change in legislation to be in effect in time for the 2019 Local and European Elections.”

“We do welcome the fact that Minister English indicated that the Government was not wholly opposed to the bill, but wanted more time to engage in discussions on the impact and consequences of the legislation, we will be more than happy to engage with Government and the opposition in the coming months to progress the legislation.

“While the timetable is now very difficult it is not impossible. We are very disappointed, but the campaign will continue.”

A response by Fianna Fail has not yet been received by The Echo.

For information on the NYCI campaign visit www.voteat16.ie

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