Election 2011 – an age old story? An age profile of the 31st Dail

Mark Farrelly, 31 March 2011

Building on from my study on the ages of TDs historically, I have conducted a more in depth analysis of the ages of TDs elected to the 31st Dáil. Overall the average age of the new Dáil on its first sitting was 48.5, in comparison to 50.4 for the 30th Dáil in 2007.This is the first time since 1982 that the average age has dropped, however the change is only marginal.


Figure 1: Average age of TDs at selected general elections, 1922-2011

The makeup within the new Dáil leaves the average age of the government at 48.0, whilst the average of the opposition is 49.2. Of course the big talking point in the media in recent weeks is the average of the newly formed cabinet which is 56.5, with only two ministers under the age of 50, namely 48 year old Simon Coveney and 32 year old Leo Varadkar.

The aging cabinet suggests that not much has changed in the recent election, and there has been no significant influx of new, younger TDs taking a seat in the chamber for the first time. A more in depth analysis of the this year’s election, and a comparison with the 2007 election gives us a better understanding of whether there have been any change in the ages of our politicians. Table 1 compares both elections, and is broken down by party and region:

  2007 2011
Overall 50.4 48.5
Fine Gael 48.7 46.9
Labour 55.0 50.6
Fianna Faíl 50.3 48.3
Sinn Fein 50.3 48.1
Other 55.3 51.4
Dublin 49.9 52.1
Leinster 50.5 47.8
Munster 49.9 46.2
Connaught-Ulster 51.2 46.2
Urban 50.1 48.3
Rural 50.6 46.6

 Table 1: Comparison between average ages of 2007 and 2011

First and foremost the table gives us a clearer indication of the undercurrents of the average age of the new Dail. In terms of the parties, Fine Gael has the youngest average age at 46.9. Independent and ULA TDs are the oldest at 51.4. Geographically Dublin is home to oldest TDs on average. The mean age of 52.1 is much higher than any other region, and 3.6 years higher than the national average. Comparing it with 2007 the party breakdown shows a 5.6 year drop in the average age for Labour from 2007 average age of 55. Otherwise there has been no significant drop in the average of the other 3 parties. As pointed out TDs in Dublin have the highest average age, which is interesting in contrast to 2007 when they were the joint youngest. There has been a significant drop in the mean ages of Connaught-Ulster, which TDs 5 years younger on average than 2007. Another interesting aspect is the break down between urban and rural TDs. In 2007 TDs in urban areas were slightly younger than rural based TDs, however those elected in the last election are 1.7 years older on average than their “counthry’’ counterparts.

The retirements of many sitting TDs in Connaught-Ulster may explain the reason for the drop in average age of both the region and the age of rural TDs also. The drop in Labour’s average age may be down a new generation of Labour supporters who decided to get run in the face of the current crisis. Fianna Fail’s average age of 48.3 indicates that whilst the party’s average age has dropped this is largely down to the huge number of retirements of sitting TDs, and those who were elected in 2011 were the experienced politicians rather than new, younger candidates.

The comparisons indicate that there has been no severe overthrow of the status quo, our TDs are still by in large middle-aged. Is this because younger people did not run for election or were there a plethora of younger candidates but the public did not vote for them? Drawing on Dr. Adrian Kavanagh’s analysis of the ages of candidates we can compare the percentage of TDs between the ages of 21-35 who ran in the election, with the percentage of those who were successfully elected.

Figure 2: Percentage of candidates and percentage of TDs aged 21-35 by region

Figure 2 shows a comparison between the candidates and TDs elected broken down by region. 13.7% of all candidates in Connaught-Ulster were aged between 21 and 35, and of the total of TDs elected in the region 19.4%. This would indicate that candidates in this age group did quite well. Dublin was the lowest for the amount of younger candidates with only 9.7% aged between 21 and 35. Whilst TDs in this age group which were elected made up for 10.6% of the overall TDs. Whilst the percentage of those elected is not as big an increase as Connaught-Ulster it is still higher than the percentage candidates nonetheless. Indeed the same can be said across the board with the percentage of TDs elected aged 21-35 higher than the percentage of candidates in every region. But what do these figures look like in terms of the parties?

Figure 3: Percentage of candidates and TDs aged 21-35 by party

Figure 3 breaks down the aged 21-35 candidates and TDs elected by party. Sinn Fein, at 26.8%, had the highest percentage of candidates in this age group. However only 14.3% of their TDs elected were aged between 21 and 35. Labour were the only party who had a higher percentage of their TDs elected (19.0%), than the percentage of their candidates which ran (17.7%) aged 21-35.

Whilst these charts are only comparisons, they raise interesting questions. Was the age of a candidate a factor in whether they received votes? Was it a factor in whether they were chosen to run for their respective parties, or was it just that the older candidate was a better person for the job? Indeed was in simply a case that very few younger people ran for the candidacy at conventions around the country? Whatever the answers it is clear that despite the current crisis there has been no great youth revolution in Irish politics. Some may argue that this fact is trivial but it deserves greater attention. If we take the argument for instance about the need for more female TDs in the Dáil it is the general consensus that there must be a greater gender balance. Should this not be the same for the age demographic in Dáil? There are interesting arguments on the issue. A greater number of young TDs may create a greater balance and perhaps give the young people they represent a greater voice in Irish politics. On the other hand perhaps an older politician is more qualified for the job, and can represent their young constituents just as well as a young TD. Either way with the bulk of our population under the age of 35, this issue should be taken into account during discussions around political reform.

The data used in the historical analysis (Figure 1) was mainly 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.

5 thoughts on “Election 2011 – an age old story? An age profile of the 31st Dail

  1. Its great to see a study into the age profiles of our representatives as I believe it is an area of reform which has been consistently ignored by our parliamentary parties.

    Debate into the merits of female reprsentation have significantly overshadowed debates on the age profile of candidates and TDs. However it is certainly worth further study especially with regard to international comparisons.

    It is positive that the average age has dropped from 50.4 to 48.5 but this is certainly not a significant reduction in any respect.

    One solution to this problem is to reduce reduce the age for those seeking election to Dáil Éireann from 21 to 18. It is vital that we support all young citizens with an interest in politics and the wider political system while also ensuring that these young citizens become political realigned. Another solution which was alluded to by some political parties is to establish an independent electoral commission which would promote politics though further educating young and old alike. The fianl solution would be to ensure that any citizen of Ireland who turns 18 is automatically registered for Dáil, Presidential and local elections. This could potentially increase the youth vote ant thus increase the number of votes for younger candidates.

    However despite these initiatives, unless parliamentary parties support young candidates there will always be an top heavy balance of older TDs in Dáil Éireann.

  2. I wonder what is the age profile of the new TDs and it is very rare indeed that someone in their 20s is mature enough to be a TD and it is even more unlikely that someone with no experience of life outside politics, no matter what their age, is capable of being the sort of TD the country needs – I assume all the new TDS with no office will be reverting to type and spending the next five years being parochial to increase their odds of reelection in 2016 – I don’t see any sign yet of Dáil reform starting to give TDs are proper role.

    You’d think with the scale of problems facing the country – every single government TD not in office would be given some issue they aim to be an expert about and tasked to come up with the solution and liase with the relevant Minister to get the solutions implemented.

    I see Sinn Fein has the most younger TDs, presumably as it tries to make a break with its past, which it can’t do while those same TDs with a past refuse to admit to it, but so far the interventions of SF TDs in the Dáil doesn’t inspire much confidence – SF’s younger TDs seem to be even more agressive than the older ones and even more unsuited to the responsibility of parliamentarianism work than most – if there were a prize for speaking at the loudest volume then SF would win – perhaps the rough edges will be knocked off in time?

    Most people are not mature enough or experienced enough for the sort of issues we face until they reach their 40s so I don’t see that younger TDs are going to make much difference.

  3. @Desmond

    It is unfair to suggest that people in their 20s are “not mature enough” to be TDs and I don’t agree with you at all on this. We need the voice of the youth to be represented in the Dáil more than ever – we have our own distinct experiences of the economic crisis with mass levels of youth emigration, graduate unemployment, cuts to third level spending and increases in third level registration fees (and the possibilty of tuition fees). In fact, research actually suggests that a more demographically diverse legislature is better balanced in terms of policy deliberations, decisions and eventual outcomes.

    One look at the state of the country suggests that this “experience” TDs over the age of 40 bring doesn’t seem to have proven itself too well in the past!

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