The other referendum. Minimum age for presidents.

On the 22nd May, we don’t just vote to make LGBT people equal citizens in this little republic.   We also vote on the minimum age for President, and on the face of it, the answer should be obvious: anyone who can vote for the president should be the president if the people so decide.

That’s what I thought.

Why do we need a grizzled elder to represent us, or even a fit, tanned forty-something with great teeth and a chiselled jawline?

Why not a lass of 21?

It’s a hard call.

I know some extraordinarily mature 21-year-olds, and I know some staggeringly-stupid 60-year-olds, so is it about age?

Is this referendum inherently ageist, just like the constitution?

I don’t know.  I don’t even know how I’ll vote on the day, though I am inclined to vote No for practical reasons, as follows.

For the most part, our President represents us in the world, and people expect to see a person of some gravity.  Like it or otherwise, people would not tend to take a 21-year-old seriously when appearing as our President, unless the 21-year-old happened to be the young Lex Luthor and then they’d be respecting him for all the wrong reasons.

Would I like to see a gigantically-talented 21-year-old as President?  Yes.  Of course I would.   I’d love to see an incredibly-young Hollywood hero as the symbolic leader of our country but it isn’t going to happen.  We won’t have President Skywalker any time soon.

We grow at different speeds and our brain grows slowest of all.

Just like you and everyone else reading this website, I was a total idiot at 21, in many ways.  In many other ways, I’m still a total idiot.  We mature in different ways, at different rates, and this is vitally important to the role of President in Ireland because essentially, the President has only one job, if we exclude the posturing and the international travel.

The President’s job is to think deeply about proposed legislation and to decide whether or not that legislation should be subjected to scrutiny.

The President’s job is to protect our democracy.  That’s all.  Everything else is just fluff.

Would a 21-year-old have the maturity to say No and refuse to sign a piece of legislation?  Perhaps, but personally, I’d prefer if that difficult choice was entrusted to somebody of 35 or more.  Not  because I have anything against 21-year-olds, and not because I think all 21-year-olds are immature, but simply because, on balance, experience tells us that the decade and a half makes an enormous difference to our growing up.

And this vote isn’t about the specific 21-year-olds who would make great presidents, but about a general principle.  The constitution is there to protect our future, and I don’t want some future government inserting a weak president for the purpose of ramming through oppressive legislation.  I don’t want some future government installing a 20-something in order to oppress all 20-somethings.

In a world where Irish presidents have almost no power, the least we can expect is that they look presidential, and I know that’s a shallow-enough reason for voting No, but it’s my reason.  I’ll have a serious reason for voting Yes on the other part of the ballot paper, but I want all presidents to look like Jean-Luc Picard.

Why?  Simply because I do.  There is no logic to it, because this is not  a question amenable to logic.

That’s it.  The end.

I don’t want a 21-year-old President and I suspect most 21-year-olds don’t either, when they can be bothered caring.


9 thoughts on “The other referendum. Minimum age for presidents.

  1. I would look at the opposite end of the changed age bracket – would you have an issue with a 34-year-old president? Of course it’s hard to imagine any 21-year-old having the gravity you would want – which is also why it’s unlikely any 21-year-old candidate would actually get elected anyway – but the line has to be drawn somewhere, and it would seem unfair to the 34-year-olds to dismiss their opportunities because you can’t imagine a 21-year-old fitting the bill. You could of course drop the age to 34, in which case you’re leaving out some hot shot 33-year-old. Again, the line has to be drawn somewhere. I’m just surprised it’s 21 rather than 18 simply because 18 is generally recognised as legally adult for most purposes in Ireland, I’m not sure if there are instances where 21 is a line in the sand.

    I’ll be voting yes to both referenda, although I won’t lose any sleep if the presidential one fails to pass.

  2. It is entirely possible that a 21 year old candidate would be elected, just because the majority of people cannot envison such a thing doesn’t mean it won’t happen,

    For example, Ming Flanagan, who would have envisioned him getting elected, nothing against him, known him for at least 30 years but I am still amazed when I see him in the dail, even more so knowing my 76 year old mother voted for him.
    So, some 21 year old will eventually come along and be elected, probably for all the wrong reasons

  3. Shouldn’t there also be a change to the law that allows the sitting President to serve a second 7 year term if the political parties don’t feet like having an election? That just seems a wee bit undemocratic. But since the office of president is more of a ceremonial office does age make a difference? He or she pretty much has to follow the wishes of government or quit and lose the big house in the park, the big salary and even bigger pension.

    But then again I did grow up in an era where we thought the office of president was made up to keep Dec in a job.

  4. Nice. Let’s disrespect all Irish men, including the ones who risk their lives to save you from a fire. Including the men who devote their lives to raising families. Including those who give their unpaid time to provide a river rescue service for no reward.

    I have to ask who exactly is immature here.

    I have to ask who might be projecting their bitter personal experience onto the decent men we all know in our day-day lives.

  5. only concerns i’d have is the financial cost. president at 21, retired at 28. could be costly paying out pensions.

  6. Apologies, I was joking. Irish men or bust for me.

    And yes, I’m immature as much as possible.

  7. I’m voting no on this one. We thought a turkey was a good idea, simply for the novelty, and I reckon we’d be just as quick to put one of the Jedwards in the Aras just for the craic!

  8. There’s something gimmicky about this referendum, a populist sop to the yoof, our hope for the future and all that codswallop. Which is not to say that a great deal of what passes for ‘politics’ in our shamocracy isn’t gimmicky anyway.

    Heaven forfend that they would propose a truly radical change, such as some version of the ancient Athenian system of sortition or lottery for presidential elections or indeed all elections.

    After all, no less an oracle than Billy Connolly I think it was said that wanting to be a politician should disqualify one from office.

    I’ll be voting no because I know I don’t know my arse from my elbow now, whereas I didn’t even know that much when I was 21.

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