On Friday 22nd May 2015 the eligible (and registered!) voters of Ireland will be asked to vote in favour or against 2 amendments to the constitution. I am proud to say that I live in a democracy that places the power to decide on the content of the ultimate reference (the constitution) with respect to the laws that govern us as citizens of this democracy. Only the people of Ireland have the right to change or amend that laws that govern us and it is a fundamental power of self determination that we perhaps take for granted. This requirement to state the preference for or against any change to our constitution does mean on occasion that we are required to make decisions on elements that we believe to be trivial or less important than others but this coming Friday we are being asked to vote on what I believe are two fundamental questions on the rights of the citizens of this state.
The forgotten referendum?
Whilst there appears to be enormous coverage on the question posed under the marriage equality referendum from both domestic and international media, and the arguments for and against have been played out in almost every conceivable forum, there is a second referendum that will be put to the voters on Friday 22nd and that is around the question of whether the right to hold the office of President of Ireland can be amended so that the minimum age of the office holder is reduced from 35 to 21 years of age. As a result of the low level of coverage, it would appear that the public has not been as well informed as possible on the arguments for and against the proposed amendment and as such, it would appear that, in the absence of fullness of information, that the voting public will opt to retain the status quo, a belief already being echoed by senior politicians up to and including the Tanaiste.
Why I am voting Yes
Perhaps I am being flippant in suggesting that the lack of awareness is triggering the preference to retain the current wording of the constitution, however, I genuinely find it difficult to comprehend how the concept of equality is getting (according to the polls at least) such a high preference in the marriage equality referendum but that this is not being translated into similar levels when it comes to equality on the basis of age. As a society, we allow the citizens that live in the country to choose the type of government that we would like on a proportional representative basis, the right to amend the constitution that is the ultimate legal reference point, get married, drive a car, purchase alcohol and tobacco etc yet as it stands, that proportion of the population under the age of 35 does not have an equal right to hold the highest elected office in the state and for me that strikes me as inequality on the basis of perception of ability based on age.
I could easily rhyme off a list of well accomplished individuals in their various fields of expertise all under the age of 35 from Mark Zuckerberg to the Collison brothers of Stripe fame. Equally looking back in history one of the greatest leaders in recent Irish history, Michael Collins, would not have been eligible to hold the office of President, and throwing out examples such as this can perhaps change some perceptions of the actual importance of the “life experience” that is the fundamental concept behind the current age restrictions and perhaps how the logical basis of this restriction is flawed. Either way, in an equal society, why should age be a barrier to the ability to hold office?
I don’t believe that age matters all that much; we are already arbitrarily deciding that 18 years of age defines the lower boundary of independent and mature thought, and that is why I will be voting Yes on Friday 22nd on the proposed amendment to the constitution concerning age of eligibility to hold the office of president, and would encourage those of you that have a vote to do the same.
If the referendum on the minimum age does pass and, horror of horrors, a callow youth of less that 35 years of age does have the gumption to run for office, you can count yourself lucky that we are in the fortunate position of living in a democracy that empowers us to vote for others we believe more suitable!