Page last updated at 18:53 GMT, Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Lowering of the Voting Age

Assembly members passed a motion calling for a lowering of the voting age, on 6 November 2012.

Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon, along with Green Party leader Steven Agnew, brought forward the motion which calls on the Westminster government to introduce legislation to allow people to vote from 16, instead of the current age of 18.

Miss Fearon, as the youngest MLA, explained that she had only been entitled to a vote three years ago, even though she had been "very politically aware" since she was in her early teens.

"Much more must be done to engage with this younger sector," she added.

She used the example of proposals to cut Education Maintenance Allowance payments given to teenagers in Northern Ireland to encourage them to stay in education.

Miss Fearon said this affected those mainly under 18 years old but they were unable to vote on such matters.

Mr Agnew said lowering the voting age would get more young people engaged in the political process.

The DUP's Alastair Ross said he had not been convinced by the issues put forward by the Sinn Fein proposer of the bill.

He said those between 18 and 24 years-of-age were always the group displaying the lowest turn-out at elections, and he believed more consideration should be given to encourage those who already were able to vote.

Mr Ross was asked by Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane if his party was uniting on refusing to support the motion.

DUP MPs Ian Paisley Jnr and Jeffrey Donaldson have backed lowering the voting age.

Ulster Unionist Ross Hussey also pointed out that in 2005, Peter Robinson, then the DUP deputy leader, signed a parliamentary motion calling for 16 year-olds to be given the vote.

Mr Ross said the assembly party was united although individuals were entitled to their own view.

Mr Hussey's party colleague, Roy Beggs, said the UUP would be supporting the motion.

"Let's empower young people," he said.

Colum Eastwood of the SDLP said it was much more than a rights issue, and politicians should be engaging with young people.

"If encouraged to vote earlier, then they will tend to vote for longer, get into the habit of it and realise the importance of it," he said.

Stewart Dickson of the Alliance Party said people paid income tax from the age of 16, and therefore they were entitled to political representation and the right to vote.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he would be voting against the motion.

"I am opposed to this, not because I am a grumpy old man, and not just because I am opposed to most things but because I think it is a very foolish and trite proposition," he said.

He said they were debating something which the assembly had no powers over.

The motion was passed with 51 members voting for it and 29 against.


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