Posted by David Farrell, January 1, 2015
When the government established the Irish Constitutional Convention it committed to providing a response to Dáil Éireann within four months of receipt of a Convention’s report. That this commitment is no longer being adhered to is a matter of some regret. But at least there have been responses to the first couple of reports by the Convention, and in some instances these have included firm commitments for action.
A case in point is the Convention’s recommendation to lower the voting age. On July 18 2013 the then Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan informed the Dáil (here) that: “[t]he Government … commits to holding a referendum before the end of 2015 on a proposal to amend the Constitution to provide for a voting age of 16. The Government will proceed now with preparations for bringing forward the relevant legislation”.
By the looks of things no “preparations” ever happened. And, now, in an interview published in this morning’s Irish Examiner the Taoiseach appears to have no knowledge of any such promised referendum. The relevant extract of the interview is worth quoting in full:
Mr Kenny was asked about lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, another issue which a slender majority in the Constitutional Convention recommended.
He replied: “We considered this. There were quite a number of recommendations for referenda. We have one to deal with in terms of a Patent Court which is a complex enough issue, there is a recommendation in respect of blasphemy, and there is one in respect of the reduction of the voting age to 16. And a number of others arising from the Electoral Commission recommendations from the Constitutional Convention.”
Mr Kenny suggested voters might get confused with too many referenda on one day and the Coalition had not agreed beyond the two which would be held. “And to be honest with you, I don’t think the Government will make a recommendation for a third, although that is a collective decision we have to make.
“So we might indicate what other referenda arising from all of the reports of the Constitutional Convention should be held and clearly they would drift into the next Government.”
Note the Taoiseach’s words. He is not announcing a reversal of policy; rather he seems to be suggesting that a commitment on the voting age issue has yet to be made! It is as if Minister Hogan’s statement to the Dáil in July 2013 never happened. This speaks volumes about the contempt for the Dáil shown by this government (much like its predecessors).
The new Minister for the Environment needs to clarify the government’s position on the Votes at 16 referendum, and he should do so by way of a fresh statement to the Dáil at the earliest opportunity.
This is not exactly the most auspices of starts to the New Year in terms of the government’s supposed reform agenda.