It has been decided that by the end of 2015 there will be a referendum in Ireland regarding lowering the voting age from 18 years of age to 16. The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) is in support of the proposed reduction in voting age. There are several reasons for the proposed reduction of voting age. The most persuasive of which I believe is that it will put youth issues on the political agenda. The NYCI suggests that “the involvement of more young people in Irish politics would … ensure issues affecting young people specifically would gain more prominence in the political arena because the people affected by those issues would be able to exercise their franchise to influence the policymaking process”. If the population between 16 and 18 years of age were added to the electorate, this youth block alone would account for 3.1% of the voting electorate (based on the population figures from the Census taken in 2011). This is a proportionately large amount of the electorate considering it only involves an age range of two years.
Another such reason is a demographic factor Ireland is facing; like the rest of Europe, Ireland is experiencing an aging population. If measures such as reducing the voter age to 16 are not implemented to actively engage young people in the political system at an earlier age, the consequence is that democracy will be threatened by the emergence of a Government and political representatives elected by a minority who are unrepresented. This is an overwhelming argument that such a demographic factor would have profound implications for future generations and would result in the emergence of a State which is not accountable to the majority of its citizens.
Sixteen is a common age for young people to gain many rights. At the age of 16 youths are given the right to leave school and seek full-time employment, while at the same time becoming liable for tax. It is also the age citizens are allowed obtain a licence to drive a tractor and may also sit their driver theory test in preparation for obtaining a full driver’s licence at the age of 17. If this youth block can be trusted with these civic responsibilities, why then can they not be entrusted with the civic responsibility of voting?
Another argument put forward by the NCYI is to remain consistent with the growing consensus of the matter. They advocate that Austria has lowered the voting age for all elections to 16. Seven of the sixteen states in Germany have lowered the voting age and a region in Switzerland has introduced it. Further they argue other countries such as the UK and Denmark are also considering such a move.