Monday 18 February 2019

'Niall Horan referendum' seems to be headed in just one direction - down


President Higgins
President Higgins
Niall Horan

It's been dubbed 'the Niall Horan referendum'. On May 22 voters will also be asked if they want to lower the eligibility age of presidential candidates from 35 to 21, which amongst other things would mean that the One Direction star could become Michael D Higgins's successor in 2018.

If that sounds a bit frivolous, then it's hardly surprising - this is very much a fringe debate that has totally failed to catch the public imagination.

Still, the question is being asked and we have to give an answer. The Yes side's campaign can be summed up by a Matt Busby quote: "If you're good enough, you're old enough."

They say it is totally unfair to bar people from Aras an Uachtarain on age grounds, pointing out that Michael Collins, Martin Luther King and even the Lord Himself all did great things before the age of 35.

Opponents have countered with another well-worn slogan: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." They see the presidency as a job for wise old heads such as Michael D (74), people with real life experience instead of flavour-of-the-month celebrities.

After all, Ronan Keating wanted to run for president during Boyzone's early days - but since reaching the age of eligibility he seems to have given up on the idea.


Not surprisingly, the Yes side's most enthusiastic members are youth organisations such as Future Voices Ireland. Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are officially in favour but running spectacularly low-key campaigns, while Labour cannot even be bothered to take a position.

As for the No side, it mostly consists of academics and commentators who make their views known through media debates.

So why is the Government putting this to a vote at all? It was recommended by the Constitutional Convention, but then so were some far more interesting proposals - such as lowering the voting age to 16.

From Enda Kenny's point of view, however, those issues are just too hot to handle, which is why he has chosen a much blander one as a fig leaf for his lack of political reform.

Early polls suggest that the referendum is likely to be rejected by a margin of two to one. Perhaps only a campaign song from the future President Horan (right) can save it now.

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