Irish Referendum 2015 – Same Sex Marriage and… what?

Minister Jimmy Deenihan must be peeved, as we are, to see plans for a referendum on Irish emigrant voting rights delayed again. Due to ‘logistical constraints’ the referenda in 2015 will now only focus on:

  • Marriage equality (same sex marriage), and
  • Reduction of the age qualification of presidential election candidates to 21

Addressing the question of marriage equality is a no-brainer. It’s a burning topic and considered an area where Ireland is lagging. It’s also a done deal. The major parties are all in favour, so apart from some theological arguments and heated debate about the subsequent legislation it’ll go through.

Priority no’ 2 is surprising, ie: allowing twenty-one year olds to become President of Ireland.

The government say this is part of a drive to make the Presidency more relevant to younger people, and the conclusion must be that the government is advocating a yes result. I think it’ll take five minutes of televised debate to blow it out of the water, and one simple question will probably do it:

“What qualities, abilities, strengths and experiences do you look for when electing the President of Ireland?”

Stature, gravitas, authority, and a working knowledge of politics, law, and the constitution to name but a few? It’s also cart before the horse. Firstly there’s a restrictive nomination process, and secondly there’s an expenditure structure that favours political candidates. I can’t see any twenty one year old getting past the first hurdle, not to mind accessing up to €750,000 to fund their campaign.

So how did this became a priority. It entered the arena early in the Constitutional Convention when the length of the presidential term was discussed. The age limit suggestion was supplementary and was probably one of the thousands submitted prior to the event.

Term reduction was rejected and the concensus was that nomination should be more accessible. It was also felt that the funding and expenses structure should be reviewed. The vote on age limit change was split 50 in favour, 47 against, and 3 don’t knows. So the convention did what it was asked to do, and voted on a suggestion, however I can’t find any evidence of expert speakers examining the pros and cons.

The final report shows that the convention went on to make constitutional recommendations on many other more important areas such as:

    Protection of the environment and natural resources
    Political reform (Dáil and Seanad)
    Definition of family
    Separation of church and state
    Right to die
    Appointment of judges
    Private property rights
    Bill of rights
    The referendum process
    Economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights
    Women at home, women in public life
    The blasphemy law
    Voting age reduction

Instead, we’re going to use the opportunity of a referendum to discuss leadership qualities and debate whether a 21 year old can be President of Ireland?

In reality, the government took the easy option here – one tricky topic at a time. The marriage equality issue has to be answered, and the presidential age question is only there to get it off the to-do list. If we were serious about making politics and the presidency more relevant to younger people we might do things in a different order:

1.   Reduce the voting age.
2a. Review and change the funding and expense structure for presidential elections.
2b. Change the nomination process for the presidency (less political control).
3.   And then look at an earlier age limit for candidacy (not necessarily 21).

Going about it backwards devalues the work of the constitutional convention, and looks like unstructured thinking. Unless of course what’s really wanted is a no result?

We’d suggest putting the emigrant vote back on the table, and getting these other issues into some semblance of order first. Still, it will be mildly entertaining to see which minister, if any, acts as advocate for allowing 21 year old presidents. Presumably one that’s not too fussed about their own credibility.


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