Guest article by Mark Farrelly, NUI Maynooth
Whilst much attention has been paid to the low numbers of female TDs in the Dáil, there has been no examination of the dearth of younger TDs. The average age of TDs has been getting progressively older since 1918. Taking a cross section of elections, held between 1918 and 2007, we can see (as in Table 1) that each Dáil has been older than the last, bar the case four elections.
The average age grew from 37.9 in 1918 to 50.6 in 1957. In the 1969 the average dropped by almost 4 years to 46.6. It rose to 48.8 in 1973, before falling again to 45.5 in 1981 and to 45 in the February 1982 election. The average age of TDs has again been consistently growing from 1982 to the most recent general election (2007).
One of the most common complaints from the public during the economic and political crisis of the past few years has been that our politicians are too old and too out of touch with modern society. The average age of the 30th Dáil on the day of its first sitting – formed after 2007 election – was 50.4. The average age of a Fianna Fail TD was 50.3 years, the average age of a Fine Gael TD was 48.7 years, while Labour TDs were, at an average of 54.5 years, the older by far of the three main parties in the 30th Dail.
If we look back to 1918 and the election of the 1st Dáil, the average age of a TD was 37.9. This means that a TD elected in 2007 was on average almost 13 years older than a TD elected in 1918.
Table 2 shows the trend in ages of the three main parties, (Fianna Fail, Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael, and Labour). In the early days of the state the Pro-Treaty government of 1922 was younger than the opposing Anty-Treatyites. However the average age of a TD elected for Fianna Fail in that party’s first general election in June 1927 was 39.6; this was younger than the average age for Labour TDs (42.5) and much younger than the average age for Cumann na nGaedheal TDs (46.2).
In more recent times a trend has become clearly visible in that the average age of a Fine Gael TD has been younger than that of a Fianna Fail TD in every Dáil bar one (1992). Another trend we can see is that Labour have been the oldest party of the three main parties in each Dáil since 1981.
So what does this tell us about election 2011? In truth there are more questions than answers. Will the average age of a TD drop significantly as it did after the last time the average had been over 50 (1957)? Will the large number of retirements amongst outgoign members of the 30th Dail have an impact? Will Labour continue to be the oldest of the three main parties? Will the obvious enormity of this election have an effect on the age demographic of the next Dáil?
Whatever the result in terms of government formation, it is safe to say that if there is not significant drop in the average age of the next Dáil following the results of the upcoming election, then there may never be one!
The data used in this analysis was drawn from the excellent electionsireland.org website. The average ages of each Dáil are a closest possible estimate, as the ages of some TDs were not available, particularly in earlier elections. Due to time constraints only a select number of Dáils have been analysed. However I hope to complete an analysis of each Dáil since 1918 in due course.
Mark Farrelly (MARK.FARRELLY@nuim.ie) is a student on the Masters in Society and Space programme in NUI Maynooth and he is currently carrying out research on youth electoral participation and representation levels in the Republic of Ireland.