Senator van Turnhout – No alternative but to vote against the resolution to establish the Constitutional Convention

Press Statement
12 July 2012: For Immediate Release.


Due to a series of votes under Seanad Order of Business today there was no opportunity for Senators to debate the Resolution to Establish the Constitutional Convention. I am very disappointed by this given the importance of the Convention and the number of concerns I have over its structure, operation and process, as set out in the Resolution. While I have welcomed the Government’s commitment to establish the Convention, I along with my colleague Senator Katherine Zappone had submitted a suite of amendments, which I believe would have redressed a number of my now outstanding concerns. The Resolution was called to a vote and without an opportunity to debate its content I felt I had no alternative but to vote against it.
I am issuing the script of the intervention I had intended to deliver during today’s debate.

“As Leader of the Independent Group (Taoiseach’s Nominees) I was given the opportunity in March to meet with the Taoiseach to discuss the Government’s proposals for the Constitutional Convention as published on 28 February 2012.

Following that meeting I made a submission to the Taoiseach in which I welcomed the Government’s commitment to establish a Constitutional Convention. I also set out a number of the concerns I had, and I am sorry to say continue to have, about its structure, operation and overall process.

It is deeply disappointing that none of the recommendations made to the Government in good faith by public representatives, constitutional lawyers, political scientists and civil society organisations have had any impact on the arrangements as contained in the Resolution to Establish the Constitutional Convention.

I am concerned that this failure to take on board well articulated and constructive concerns does not bode well for the desired outcome of this process, which according to the Programme for Government is to consider “comprehensive constitutional reform”.

Our time to debate this Resolution is extremely limited and so I am forced to limit my intervention to just two issues, to which myself and my colleague Senator Zappone have submitted amendments.

Amendment to point (ii) “reducing the voting age to 17” delete “to 17”

Reducing the voting age:

I am concerned that we are not considering arguably more significant issues in the in the context of “comprehensive constitutional reform” such as, provision for same-sex marriage or our preferred formulation “provision for marriage for same-sex couples”, and review of the Dáil electoral system before some of the other listed topics.

That said, I welcome the inclusion of the voting age as a topic for consideration.
However, I believe that the Government’s formulation here is too prescriptive and seeks to pre-empt the outcome.

I would urge the Government not to seek to control the final result of the Convention on this issue.
I note that in one of the references in the Programme for Government, this same issue was listed as “Possible reduction of voting age”.

Reducing the voting age to 17 should not be the only option open for discussion.
The voting age is not static. It is something that changes as our society develops and matures.
The voting age in Ireland was reduced in 1973 by 3 years from 21 to 18.

There is a global and European momentum towards extending the right to vote to young people at 16 and 17 years old.

European Examples:

Austria-In 2007 became the first European country to reduce the voting age to 16 for all elections.
Germany-7 out of 16 landers have lowered the voting age to 16.
Slovenia-16 and 17 year olds can vote if they have a job.
UK-Proposals to lower the voting age to 16 are currently being considered.

Outside Europe Examples:

Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and the Philippines 16.

I am also concerned that there is no scope for the discussion under this specific topic of complimentary amendments such as the minimum age for a candidate to be eligible for election as President or to be eligible for membership of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. I believe it is important that the Convention is given scope to examine other aspects of a given topic.

Civil Society Participation:

In my submission to the Taoiseach I made a number of my concerns about the composition of the Convention known.

[Amendment in bold “the Convention shall invite and accept submissions from interested bodies, including civil society organisations, and will seek such expert advice as it considers desirable”].

I believe this amendment will better ensure that adequate space is provided to allow for meaningful input from civil society groups and other relevant stakeholders throughout the process.

Their expertise in assisting and advancing public consultation processes, such as on the Universal Periodic Review and the current Review of the White Paper on Development, is clear.

It is also especially important given that there are certain members of the Irish population who will not directly participate as members of the Convention, such as children.

The voice of children must be heard. I ask the Government to ensure that the relevant NGOs and structures such as Dáil na nÓg are fully utilised to redress this concern.

Tánaiste, on a final note I feel it important to say [on the record] that I am not convinced about the role for Oireachtas Members as set out in this Resolution.

I am concerned by the appearance of Government dominance over the entire process.
I have reservations about the appropriateness of Oireachtas Members participating, particularly in the review of the Dáil electoral system but on all the issues generally, given the space public representatives already have to debate and consider these issues and in light of the fundamental need to provide the widest scope possible for ordinary citizens to engage with the topics.”


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