Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015
|Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015|
|Date||22 May 2015|
|Source: Referendum Commission|
The Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015 (bill no.6 of 2015) was a proposed amendment to the constitution of Ireland to reduce from 35 to 21 the minimum age of candidacy for the office of President of Ireland. The bill was introduced to the Oireachtas in January 2015 by the Fine Gael–Labour government, after which both houses of the Oireachtas passed the bill. The bill was rejected by the electorate in a referendum on 22 May 2015 by 73.1% voting against to 26.9% in favour. This was the largest losing margin of any referendum in Ireland.
The office of President was created when the Constitution was enacted in 1937. Douglas Hyde, the first president, took office in 1938. The age limit of 35 was set in the draft constitution introduced by the then Executive Council, in line with that of other countries, including the President of the United States. The draft subsection originally read:
- Every citizen who has reached his 35th year of age and is not placed under disability or incapacity by law, is eligible for election to the office of President.
When the President of the Executive Council, Éamon de Valera, undertook to delete the words "and is not placed under disability or incapacity by law", he stated, "And if I get any support from the other members of the House, I should be inclined to say that I would wipe out the 35 years of age provision, too." The latter was not pursued.
Until the 1990 election of Mary Robinson, presidents were older men at the end of their career. The 1996 Constitution Review Group was divided on whether to reduce the age limit; the majority favoured "no change, or only a minor reduction", while a minority felt the age should be the same as for election to the Oireachtas (currently 21). In 1997, the Oireachtas joint committee on the Constitution disagreed, recommending a reduction to age 18. Private member's bills to reduce the age limit to 18 were introduced in 1999 by Eamon Gilmore and in 2011 by Catherine Murphy; neither was enacted.
After the 2011 general election, Fine Gael and the Labour Party formed a coalition government, the programme of which included the establishment of a Constitutional Convention to examine potential changes on specified issues, including "Reducing the President's term of office from seven to five years, and aligning with the European Parliament elections and local elections". The convention considered the issue at its first working meeting, in January 2013, and voted against either of the specified proposals; however, it voted in favour of two others: reducing the nomination age from 35 to 21, and allowing candidate nomination by electors. The age-reduction proposal was passed by 50 votes to 47, with three "don't know". The choice of relatively minor questions for the convention's first meeting was defended by the Taoiseach, who said, "It is not that there are no exceptionally difficult constitutional issues, but the aim is to see how the constitutional convention will actually operate and whether it can do its work effectively." The convention's report on its first meeting was formally submitted in March 2013, and the government formally responded in July, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised a referendum "before the end of 2015" on reducing the age of candidacy; the proposal on popular nomination was referred to an Oireachtas committee. In December 2014, the cabinet agreed to hold the promised referendum in May 2015, and in January 2015, the amendment bill was formally introduced in the Dáil by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Alan Kelly.
The government held simultaneous referendums on 22 May 2015, on the presidential age bill and another constitutional amendment, to allow same-sex marriage. A Dáil by-election in Carlow–Kilkenny was held on the same day.
Every citizen who has reached his thirty-fifth year of age is eligible for election to the office of President.
Every citizen who has reached the age of twenty-one years is eligible for election to the office of President.
As well as the substantive change from 35 to 21, the new wording has two other points of difference. First, it uses gender-neutral language rather than the male pronoun "his". Second, it avoids an ambiguity as to the year in question: one's "thirty-fifth year" begins immediately after one's thirty-fourth birthday, so a strict reading of the existing English text does not have the intended meaning; however, the equivalent Irish text unambiguously indicates age 35. (The Irish text takes precedence in the event of conflict with the English text; both would be changed in tandem by the amending bill.)
Campaign and debate
The presidential age referendum was the subject of far less media coverage or active advocacy than the marriage referendum, and described as "forgotten", "invisible", or "the other referendum". Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Sinn Féin were nominally in favour, though some representatives of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil said they would be voting No. The Labour Party took no position on the referendum, having supported the bill in the Oireachtas. The Union of Students in Ireland supported a Yes vote.
In The Irish Times in February 2015, academics Theresa Reidy and Colum Kenny took opposite stances on the proposal. Reidy argued that it would encourage youth participation in politics and broaden the choice of candidates available to voters, while admitting that the issue was far less important than other amendment proposals not proceeded with. Kenny argued that any young person likely to succeed in being nominated would be "a creature of a political party, chosen and funded as a gimmick", and suggested that a No vote would "send a message to Oireachtas Éireann that politicians ought not to toy with the Constitution or patronise the electorate". Diarmaid Ferriter endorsed an internet comment that "the only under 35-year-olds who would think that they would be suitable for the role would be the sort of self-righteous Yoof upstarts that should be let nowhere near such an important and distinguished position". Fintan O'Toole called it "the single most frivolous proposal ever put to the people". Among Yes-advocates, Michael Noonan named Michael Collins and (jocularly) Jesus as prominent people too young to run; among No-advocates, Niall Horan was similarly instanced.
The national result was as follows:
|Constituency||Electorate||Turnout||Turnout (%)||Yes||Yes (%)||No||No (%)||Spoilt|
|Kerry North–West Limerick||62,523||35,762||57.20||8,244||23.27||27,178||76.73||340|
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One acerbic contributor to a popular politics website made the colourful, and I suspect accurate [emphasis added], observation that “the only under 35-year-olds who would think that they would be suitable for the role would be the sort of self-righteous Yoof upstarts that should be let nowhere near such an important and distinguished position”.
- O'Toole, Fintan (3 March 2015). ": How hopes raised by the Constitutional Convention were dashed". The Irish Times. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
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- McNamee, Michael Sheils (1 April 2015). "It turns out Ireland really doesn’t want Niall Horan to be President". TheJournal.ie. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
- Lynch, Andrew (7 May 2015). "'Niall Horan referendum' seems to be headed in just one direction - down". The Herald. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
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- "Press Releases". National Youth Council of Ireland. May 2015. Retrieved 29 May 2015.