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Third Place: Lee Dillon, Ardscoil Ris, Limerick

According to Kate Green, MP in the Stretford and Urmston area of Manchester City, young people between sixteen and eighteen years of age would feel more connected to their communities by being allowed to place a piece of paper into a ballot box. We are led to believe that this piece of paper will empower the people for whom we vote to be our voice in Government.

Our public representatives promise the sun, moon and stars in order to secure votes. Do the Irish people of today see these promises followed through? Do the people who are currently voting feel connected to their communities by their vote? And would the young people of Ireland, who are not oblivious to the false promises of our Government, feel more at one with their communities by casting a vote. I think not!

“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”- Nikita Khrushchev.

It is true to say that the people for whom we vote vow to improve educational facilities, to enhance sporting amenities and to develop transport and recreational facilities in our local areas. These are the things that truly connect the youth with their community. These promises may have been believable in years gone by, but we can no longer guarantee that funds will be made available for our small towns and villages.

Nobody can deny that our country is in a state of disrepair. Is Ms. Green really under the illusion that Ireland has the funds to implement change in local communities? All available finances are being used either to pay off the country’s national debt of over 120 billion euro or to pay governmental salaries (in some cases exceeding €200,000 per annum), which would appear to be of primary importance to our so-called leaders!

The Irish nation is beginning to lose faith in our politicians, and subsequently in our political system. The findings of the Moriarty tribunal have provided the Irish public with information regarding corruption within the Dáil. The so-called ‘leaders’ in whom the Irish people have placed the utmost of faith, such as Bertie Ahern, Michael Lowry and indeed, Charles Haughey have all been found guilty of toying with our finances.

Are we supposed to support these people in their efforts?

The term ‘leader’ is used quite flippantly in describing our politicians. A leader is somebody one looks up to, somebody that is admired. Whether one can vote at the age of sixteen or eighteen is really irrelevant. Our nation can no longer rely on our politicians in times of difficulty.

If any efforts are to be made to improve communities and bring them together, it is the local people and local contributions that are going to do so, not just granting sixteen year olds the right to vote. It is obvious that teenagers between the age of sixteen and eighteen cannot look up to our politicians today. So who can they aspire to?
Teenagers of today aspire to local heroes. Our school alone shows great pride in our past pupils such as Paul O’Connell, who has captained both the Munster rugby team and the Irish Rugby team. Only last Sunday, he received ‘The Freedom of the city of Limerick’. My fellow students  look up to O’Connell as a leader. They aspire to follow in the footsteps of pupils such as Shane Dowling and Kevin Downes who are now part of the Limerick hurling squad.

Perhaps Kate Green’s statement applies in the United Kingdom, where voting turnouts have reached record lows and additional votes are needed, but it is apparent that Irish teenagers and their communities are extremely closely knit. Why then, would they need to reconnect with their communities, when they are already heavily involved?
Lowering the voting age to sixteen would not be beneficial to our communities, but rather farcical. Young people between the age of sixteen and eighteen have far greater interests than politics and voting rights. It is during these years that Irish teenagers prepare for their Junior Certificate exams and, more importantly, their Leaving Certificate exams.
As a seventeen-year-old, Leaving Certificate student, I can confidently say that being able to vote would not be top of my agenda. More thought would be given to the number of points I can achieve in my Leaving Certificate, what college I can attend and what job prospects are at the end of it. These are the things that go through a teenager’s mind, the pressures that they feel. They do not have thoughts to spare on who should be voted into Government.

It is now common knowledge that politics and government policies are merely ‘touched’ upon in our schools, through the ‘one class a week’ of C.S.P.E. and it is not possible to teach such policies without imposing biased thoughts on students. How, then, does Kate Green believe that teenagers of sixteen would have sufficient knowledge to give their vote on even community issues?
What do teenagers know about Politics? For it is in youth we learn, but in age we understand.

Perhaps if second level students in Ireland were educated sufficiently in Political issues, then possibly the voting age could be lowered to grant our teenagers a greater say on a national scale. However, I still firmly believe that our communities do not need any assistance in becoming or remaining connected. We the people of Ireland do not see promises followed through, we do not feel connected to our communities by our vote, and the young people of our local communities are connected without the need of a vote.

What a wonderful world it would be if we could unite worldwide communities by simply placing a piece of paper in a ballot box.