Time for Votes at 16
I’ve been following politics since age 10, a primary school trip to Stormont was all I needed to develop an interest, having followed the 2014 European Parliament elections I had found something that truly interested my little 10 year old brain. From there I started following elections at every opportunity, no matter whether it was Westminster or the White House. I have grown up with a love for politics, it affects my daily life, I study AS Government & Politics and hope to study a politics degree. I’ve appeared on both the Television and Radio to talk about politics specifically education, I’ve interviewed numerous politicians and even hosted a debate with other young people.
So why don’t I get a vote?
Some say young people aren’t educated enough to vote, I disagree, more people than ever are choosing to study politics on both sides of the border, many campaigns are being spearheaded by today’s youth. Young activists helped push for Marriage Equality and Abortion in Ireland, in 2019 we saw thousands of young students protesting climate inaction all around the world. In 2020 we saw thousands of activists young and old protest police brutality and systematic racism. Information is more accessible than ever, I can find thousands of articles online written by young people. We are not the same generation as our parents, the internet has helped educate millions of young people about the effects that politics has on our daily lives. We are educated.
Others say young people wouldn’t get out and vote. Tell that to Scotland, in their independence referendum almost 80% of 16-17 year olds turned out to vote.
Some say we don’t have the life experience to deserve a vote, a generation that has lived through a global pandemic, an economic crisis in 2008. A generation that has suffered under some of the most inept Education Ministers in the history of Ireland in the forms of Fianna Fáil’s Norma Foley and the DUP’s Peter Weir. Neither of them properly considering the effects their decisions have on young people, but both of them putting their desires ahead of public health advice.
In the north we would have votes at 16 had it not been for the Tory party. In 2012 the Stormont Assembly passed a motion in favour of Votes at 16. However as elections are not a devolved matter we have to rely on the Westminster government and the Tory party are not interested as they oppose lowering the voting age. South of the border students may get lucky as Sinn Féin are reintroducing a bill to allow votes at 16 in Local and European elections however Dáil elections and referenda require constitutional change.
So, why should you support lowering the voting age?
At 16 we can pay tax, marry and join the army. At 17 we can drive and register to vote. We lose out on the opportunity to take part in democracy, we lose our voice. Some adults will say that young people should have a voice but not a vote, however a voice is nothing without power, a voice is of no use if you can only shout but do nothing. Young people want change without a vote we cannot bring change. Power needs to be held to account, the adults seem to be failing at that, so we deserve the opportunity. Adults make decisions that affect our lives and we have no say in the matter. We have no voice without a vote. Left or right, orange or green, you should support votes at 16. Taxation without representation brought down the British establishment in America and sparked a revolution.
What’s the worst that can happen? Young people actually make some change? Many young people won’t turn out to vote in the same way many 18-24 year olds don’t turn out, those of us who want a vote, those of us who would vote deserve the opportunity.
The government should reflect the people it represents, and yet the Assembly is largely made up of old, white men. Only one MLA is under 30 however 20 of them are over 60. The Assembly fails to represent us, the future, the generation of tomorrow.
Well, the generation of tomorrow wants a say Today. The newly announced youth Assembly is great and I applaud the efforts of all those involved, however getting to play politics isn’t enough for us. Let us decide who makes the decisions, give us an equal seat at the table.
Give us a voice. Give us a vote.
It is past time for votes at 16.
Lower the voting age now.
By Dermot Hamill