September 22, 2023
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote

In the old Eddie Cochran song, Summertime Blues, a frustrated teenager seeks political help to beat his boredom problems.
Well I called my congressman
And he said, quote:
‘I’d like to help you son,
But you’re too young to vote’
That won’t be the case much longer if Senator Malcolm Byrne has his way. The Fianna Fáil senator wants to drop the voting age from 18 to 16.

When I was 16 I knew exactly what was wrong with the world and how to put it right. Fortunately, the world was not impressed and, so, was spared a pan-national Marxist government headed by Bernadette Devlin and orchestrated by John Lennon.

When I was 18 I was less sure about my 16-year-old certainties. When I was 20 I could see a wider range of problems and by the time I was 25 I was pondering a few different solutions.

I had gained a bit of sense, you might say, although I think what I had really acquired was a stake in society.

By the time I was 18, I had a job and was paying tax. So I was interested in how the government proposed to spend my money, both immediately and in the future – although, like most 18-year-olds, my idea of the future didn’t stretch beyond the next couple of years.

By the time I was 25, my horizon had extended. I had a wife and a daughter and a mortgage on a house. Things that never crossed the mind of 16-year-old me had become important, like the interest rate charged by banks, the availability of pre-school education, the state of the health service.

Acceptance of personal responsibility is what qualifies us to take a share of national responsibility. That’s why I am opposed to this idea from Senator Byrne.

I’m not suggesting that  voting rights be confined to taxpayers in employment. Nowadays, with the huge extension of further education, that would leave lots of people unable to vote until they are in their late twenties.

I am not proposing  any link at all between employment and the franchise. I just think 16-year-olds are  too young to vote.

They are children. We don’t seem to like that word any more, in a world where primary school pupils have become students, teenage girls are called young women and we listen with respect while unelected Greta Thunberg lectures elected leaders who are four times her age.

But they are children, our children and grandchildren, and they should be free to enjoy the last of their childhood without sharing responsibility for the welfare of the world. If they are interested in politics, they should be free to indulge in fantasies about Marxist republics, or whatever else seems right and exciting, without the worry that a vote of theirs might help turn the dream into a living nightmare.

So I hope our elected representatives will do the children a favour and ignore Senator Byrne’s attempt to burden them with electoral responsibility .

Note  you, it’s only a limited responsibility the senator has in mind. He wants the franchise extended just for local government and European elections. So 16-year-olds could have a vote for the running of a county or a continent, but not a country.

That’s a rather patronising view for someone who believes, as Senator Byrne says, “that young people have illustrated their maturity in recent years on everything from climate change and human rights to community youth facilities”.

I hope they remember that if they ever get a chance to vote for the former Wexford TD. Although they won’t be able to vote for or against him if he stays in the Seanad. Hardly anyone gets a say in who is elected to the upper house.

Councillors and outgoing senators can vote along with TDs and a select bunch of university graduates. This small cabal is the Seanad’s only electorate.

Senator Byrne says he wants to “encourage participation in politics”. He should start in his own backyard.

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