Northern Ireland

NI students call for voting age to be lowered to 16

Voting
Image caption The students want the voting age to be lowered to 16 years of age

Students in Northern Ireland are calling on the government to lower the voting age to 16 and to provide them with more financial help.

Members of the NUS/USI are holding their annual conference in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, on Tuesday.

Last year, the Stormont Assembly backed a motion calling on the voting age to be reduced to 16.

However, electoral policy is not devolved and remains the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

Speaking ahead of the two-day conference, NUS-USI president Adrianne Peltz, said lowering the voting age was imperative.

'Grossly unfair'

"It is absolutely crucial that the assembly creates legislation to lower the voting age to 16 here as soon as possible.

"It is grossly unfair that at 16, people pay taxes but aren't allowed a say on how their taxes are spent," she added.

"Democracy is a right, particularly when you are compelled to contribute to the financial running of your society.

"There is so much disenchantment and disengagement with politics and it is crucial that politics and decision making reconnects with young people. Delivering the vote at 16 is a key way to do this," Ms Peltz added.

The students will discuss the voting age limit and financial support for students with Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry who will be attending the conference.

'Consensus'

In November 2012, Mr Farry's Alliance Party, along with Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists, backed a call for young people in Northern Ireland to be given the vote at 16.

The motion was brought jointly by Stormont's youngest MLA, Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon, and the Green Party leader, Steven Agnew.

It was opposed by 29 MLAs, including members from the DUP and TUV.

Despite the Stormont vote, the NIO retains responsibility for election legislation relating specifically to Northern Ireland.

A NIO spokeswoman said: "The government has no plans to amend the voting age generally in this parliament.

"To consider making a change to the franchise specifically for Northern Ireland elections, where this would introduce a different age from the one used in UK-wide elections or in Ireland, we would need to see a very high level of consensus within Northern Ireland in favour of the change."

Taxation

She added: "We recognise the significance of the Assembly vote in favour of reducing the voting age. However, as the vote showed, this is an issue on which there are a range of views. The Executive has also not made a formal request to make this change."

Mr Agnew, who jointly proposed the Stormont motion, said there should be "no taxation without representation".

"Young people receive their National Insurance card at 16 and gain the right and responsibility to seek employment if they are not in full-time education, and they should have a say in how the taxes they contribute are spent."

The Green Party leader added: "Reducing the voting age to 16 will help get more young people onto the electoral register at a time when their home life is more settled as they are less likely to be living in temporary, student accommodation."

Last month, proposed legislation to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish independence referendum was formally brought to the Scottish parliament.

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