I met with representatives of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum earlier today, and we discussed voting age and other issues impacting on young people today.
I support their campaign to reduce the voting age. Lets reduce the voting age in all elections and referenda,including the in/out European referendum. One of the lessons of the Scottish Independence referendum and the Equal Marriage referendum in the South is that while young people may be turned off by party politics, they have not turned their backs on the democratic process.
Withdrawal from the European Union would have a significant impact on young people here. As EU citizens, our young people are entitled to study at any European university under the same conditions as nationals of that state. That is a significant benefit to broadening horizons and makes some of the world’s leading educational institutions more accessible, especially for those on lower incomes.
We should also consider the effect that Brexit would have on prospects for young people. Severing links with the Free Market and introducing new barriers to investment by European companies will damage our economy and stifle job creation.
I challenge any politician to listen to the articulate views of the young people at the Northern Ireland Youth Forum and tell them they aren’t mature or developed enough to exercise a right to vote. Today I am calling for the British Government to devolve this area of electoral law to the Assembly, which has already endorsed lowering the voting age to 16. The Scottish parliament has already taken steps to legislate for it, the young people of Northern Ireland should be the next to receive suffrage.
David Cameron set a precedent when he allowed 16 and 17 year olds to vote on a matter of constitutional significance in the Scottish referendum. This referendum is no less significant. Young people cannot now be sidelined or silenced. They have a significant contribution to make and the SDLP will continue to press for their voice to be heard.