Let’s make one thing clear right from the start.
This referendum is going down in flames, and I firmly believe that this is intentional. The constitutional convention always seemed like an inconvenience to the political elite, rather than a genuinely worthwhile experiment. The talking shop has long since closed, but its “recommendations” remain. And they have to be addressed. But not very stringently.
So, here it is, a very minor matter, that of the age limit applied to Presidential candidates. With a referendum scheduled to take place on the same day of the far more important same-sex marriage vote, this decision has been largely ignored, by politicians, media and the electorate.
There is no way this referendum will pass, with no genuine “Yes” movement to speak of. The government parties “support” it, but will not campaign, focusing all of their electoral efforts of this time on the SSM fight. And that is to be expected. And when the Presidential Age referendum is defeated, I believe the government will shrug, shake their heads, and declare that the people of Ireland, in so easily rejecting the proposed change, are signalling their lack of assent for the continuation of such referendums, and the work of the constitutional convention will be permanently set aside. This vote, and the lack of effort in pursuing its success, is euthanasia for the recommendations of the constitutional convention.
So, with that declared, I might as well stay true to my established tradition and outline how I will personally vote.
I’m going to vote “Yes” to this change and the reasoning can be simply put: there is no reason why a 21 year old cannot fulfil the duties of the Irish Presidency.
All you have to do is take a look at the established powers – and lack of them – of the Irish Presidency to get the picture. What few have deigned to write on their opposition to this change talk of the necessity of experience for such a high position, especially in a legal sense.
But I don’t buy it. The practical powers of the President are nearly done under advisement anyway, and don’t really amount to all that much in practise. The Dail has always been dissolved when requested, barely any pardons have actually been given, there is little to the act of testing the constitutionality of a law that the President actually does than say “Um, I don’t know, will you check it out?”, and the military aspect of the position is purely ceremonial. There really is no reason at all why a 21 year old could do all of that, in the extremely unlikely event that a 21 year old actually got elected to the office (let’s be honest here, we’d really be talking late twenties, early thirties).
Where a young President might prove useful is in appearance, which is arguably the most important role of the President. The President is the singular face of the nation, elected into his position by the nation (unlike the Taoiseach, currently elected by Mayo). He/she represents the nation abroad, and the right representation can be important when it comes to trade, diplomacy, etc. President Robinson had that, President McAleese had it and, in a different way, President Higgins sort of has it, though he is so easily turned into a figure of (undeserved) ridicule. Putting a young face on Ireland wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
I’m well aware that this is not a stirring forceful argument for change, but it’s the best I’ve got. I would consider the change worth doing, because I no way believe that turning 35 should suddenly make you capable of holding the highest office in the land.
But it doesn’t matter. This referendum will fail, and probably by quite a margin. I will say no more on it, because it really isn’t worth the energy it takes to type. That’s a shame, but you can’t dodge the reality.