Eamonn McCann - Young people are about as wise as their elders

Stephen Agnew of the Green Party and Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon will face strong opposition at Stormont this afternoon when they move a motion calling for the voting age to be brought down to 16. The idea was first mooted by the NI Youth Forum.

Stephen Agnew of the Green Party and Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon will face strong opposition at Stormont this afternoon when they move a motion calling for the voting age to be brought down to 16. The idea was first mooted by the NI Youth Forum.

Youngsters don’t know their own minds when it comes to politics, say oldsters who turn a deaf ear to things they don’t want to hear. The same people simultaneously object to the proposal from Justice Minister David Ford to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12.

They are old enough to tell right from wrong at 12 - but even four years later too young to express a preference between one party and another.

I find young people - in general and on balance and with all sorts of exceptions - as wise about politics as the majority of their elders. In many cases, they are not yet corrupted by cynicism or corralled into automatic support for their own ‘tribe’.

If a certain percentage are politically do-lally - what age-group in these parts is any different?

In a statement at the weekend, the Enagh Youth Forum pointed out: “Many young people in Northern Ireland are disillusioned with party politics, but they want to deal with problems that affect their lives... Voting would give them a lever for change ...Youth unemployment is at an all-time high in this city, lack of opportunity and access to higher education is limited. Let’s give young people a voice, make them stakeholders, link them with society….”

‘Link them with society’ seems to me the main point. Talk to any group of 16-year-olds or thereabouts in Derry - particularly those accused, often with reason, of ‘anti-social behaviour’ - and you will find that they feel little association with the institutions and dominant attitudes in the community around them.

To give them the vote would be to give them respect. It would represent a serious effort at inclusion. I can think of no downside to Stephen and Megan’s suggestion.