With the local and European elections on the horizon teenagers in Ireland will be watching proceedings from the outside, wondering why their voices can't be heard. A campaign is mounting to allow 16 and 17-year-olds vote, and it’s one which the Mayo Advertiser supports. At the ages of 16 and 17 you can pay taxes, get married, work full-time, leave school, or be detained at a detention centre, so why not have the right to vote?
Westport Cllr Keith Martin made an interesting point this week when he stated that 16 and 17-year-olds are constantly voting on reality TV programmes such as Big Brother, The X Factor, and You're a Star. However, they are unable to vote on the real issues that effect their lives.
There is little difference in the knowledge a 16-year-old and 18-year-old have of the political system. They all study politics now in school and while they have a forum to debate the issues and critically assess the candidates, they should be given the opportunity to have their voices heard through a vote.
Sixteen and 17-year-olds would have the support of their school to encourage them to use their vote. It would instil civic mindedness in them. Their civic, social, political education syllabus would be supplemented in the year of an election by having debates on local candidates and which candidates would best represent young people.
Once they leave school the chances are they will probably be living or studying away from home and therefore not in a position to vote on their local candidates. Most people wouldn't be interested in voting in a local election in Dublin or Limerick where they have little knowledge about the local political parties and where they probably don’t intend settling down for the rest of their lives.
Take for example nurses or teachers who have studied in Dublin or Galway and are now working in Dublin or Galway. The vast majority of those, who are probably in their early twenties now, and who may well be interested in the political system, haven't voted because they are registered to do so in Mayo and aren't interested in voting away from home.
The National Youth Council of Ireland are launching a nationwide campaign ‘Vote at 16 — A New Age in Voting’ to urge the Government to change the law. A website has been developed www.voteat16.ie which will provide information and advice for young people on the issue, while also setting out to local and national politicians and political parties why the voting age should be reduced.
Cllr Martin has welcomed this campaign and has asked the pertinent question who better to articulate young peoples’ issues than young people themselves.
The teenagers of this generation have far more knowledge of politics through programmes in secondary school and access to information via the internet. They are increasingly engaged in political and charity campaigns and they are heavily impacted on by decisions made at local and European level, particularly in the area of education. That’s the view of Cllr Martin who himself got involved in politics before he was legally old enough to vote and now sees him as one of the youngest elected representatives in Mayo.
Already a number of countries have reduced the voting age to 17 such as East Timor and Indonesia. Others such as Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua, the Isle of Man, and the Netherlands have reduced the voting age to 16.
“At a time when the lives of young people are being severely impacted by cutbacks in education, reductions in childrens’ allowance and increases in college registration fees - they deserve to have their voices heard,” said Cllr Martin this week and we agree.
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