Friday, 30 March 1973
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for Labour (Mr. M. O'Leary): This is a short Bill arising directly from the decision of the people in the referendum on 7th December last when they voted by a very large majority to reduce the minimum voting age at Dáil and Presidential elections and referenda to 18 years. The amendment of the Constitution came into effect on 5th January and this Bill will complete the procedure by making formal statutory provision for registration of persons as electors at the age of 18 years. In fact, the names  of persons aged 18 to 21 years have been included in the new register of electors in anticipation of the provisions of this Bill. It will be appreciated, therefore, that it is necessary to have the Bill enacted before the new register comes into force on 15th April so that the register will have a proper statutory basis.
University Senators particularly, will note that the age for registration as an elector in the Seanad University consituencies is being reduced to 18 years. I understand that there are not many graduates under the age of 21 who will benefit from this change in any year but, nonetheless, it was considered a change well worth making by the present and previous Minister for Local Government.
The Bill proposes to reduce both the voting age at local government elections and the minimum age for membership of local authorities from 21 to 18 years. I am confident that Senators will agree that both these steps are desirable with a view to providing greater opportunities for young people to become involved in the democratic conduct of local affairs.
Professor Jessop: I should like to join with the Senators who spoke previously in welcoming the Minister to this House. I should like some clarification of this paragraph on the Seanad University constituents in relation to University Senators. I take it that undergraduates who are over the age of 18 will have votes for the Dáil elections like any other member of the community who is in this age category. It is only in relation to the election of University Senators that they are under, shall we say, the disability of not being able to vote because in that case they are not graduates.
Mr. O'Higgins: I think the position is that for the University Senate election there is a special Act which must be amended to bring it into line with the ordinary electoral register. Section 3 specifically amends the Senate Electoral (University Members) Act, 1937. If this were not the case, even though  the ordinary electoral register would entitle people to vote at 18, those of 18 years of age could not vote in the University Senate elections to this House.
Professor Jessop: There are many other categories of election to Seanad Éireann in which members of the electoral body will be less likely to be under the age of 21 than in the university graduates category. I am thinking of all of us here who have the right to vote for our colleagues in the next Seanad election and also the members of county councils all over the country. Why do we single out the university undergraduates in this regard?
Mr. M. O'Leary: As I understand the position, this Bill puts into statutory form what we decided in the recent constitutional referendum. These particular Acts governing the University elections also require amendment and that is the only significance for the inclusion of this section. That is as I understand the position. In future 18 year-olds will be able to vote in local and Dáil elections. The Senator appears to think there is some discrimination or even confusion——
Mr. M. O'Leary: If the Senator, for example, had brilliant selectors on his university panel, graduates of 18, presumably the Senator might be back with an increased majority or might not be back at all.
Professor Quinlan: I think the question of the university Senators is purely consequential on the other. Up to this time, a graduate had to sign a form requesting to be put on the electoral register. It would be much more important that a further amendment should be made in that register which  would automatically confer the right of membership of the university electoral panel on all persons as they graduated from a university college. In the forthcoming period we hope that the university reorganisation will be faced, and that will call for Senate reorganisation of the representation of the universities on the two panels. When that is done I would ask the Minister to ensure that the register is exactly the same as the ordinary register of graduates as used by the universities for their ordinary university Senate elections.
Mr. Lyons: On a point of information, some university graduates, some young people, asked me during the week about the method of registration and the time for registration. Is it true that a university graduate can move through his life without registering at all? Is it also true that quite a large number of them have not registered? The question I want to ask is: is it open to a graduate to register at any particular time, and what is the procedure?
Mr. M. O'Leary: This is an interesting point raised by Senator Lyons. For his information the actual position is that the registration process is subject to the law, a matter for the university and the registration office appointed by the governing body. The Local Government Department have not had complaints, or any suggestions for improvements involving changes in the law. As such, the Local Government Department would be prepared to consider them but, at this date, the Department are not aware of any misgivings either on the part of the legal registration groups, the university authorities, or on the part of the graduates who would be entitled to vote. Therefore, it is not our concern under law, but if either the graduates or the university authorities are not satisfied that the process at present provided under the law is being fulfilled, it is up to both or either of these groups to make their views known to the Department.
The Department are ready to cooperate in any way on any request made by either the electors or the bodies in the universities responsible  for seeing that the registration process is complete. I agree with the Senator. I would be unhappy to think that the law was not being fulfilled in all details and that the university authorities were failing in their duty to see that graduates were enrolled. We have no information suggesting this is the case. There have been press reports suggesting that there have been shortcomings but we have not been officially informed of any shortcomings by either the electors entitled under law, the graduates, or the university authorities.
Mr. Lyons: I want to ask another question, a Chathaoirleach, if I am in order. What method have the university authorities of contacting graduates who have left the country and who are entitled to vote once they have registered? Have the graduates to notify their addresses so that ballot papers can be sent to them at any given time during the year?
Mr. M. O'Leary: Again I repeat that this is simply a matter for either the electors involved or the university authorities. I do not know if there has been any procedure agreed on to ensure that the registration agents keep in touch with graduates and have their addresses. My own opinion is that in practice this would be very difficult to arrange. Again I repeat that the Department are ready to listen to any representations made by either of the people who under the law are responsible for the full registration.
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