Presidential referendum was ‘waste of money’

A Fine Gael MEP has blasted the referendum on the issue of the presidential age as a “waste of money” and said those who came up with the idea of putting it before the people should be fired.

The referendum on whether to reduce the minimum age of candidates for the presidency from 21 to 35 was heavily defeated.

The Department of Public Expenditure estimates the cost of the referendum was around €7.5m, money which MEP Seán Kelly said had been a complete waste.

He tweeted: “Whoever suggested we have a referendum on presidency should be fired and made pay for its costs. People want end to waste.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton said the age referendum was “sidelined” in campaigning in recent weeks, due to greater interest in the same-sex marriage referendum.

But Ms Burton also admitted barely anybody had asked her about the issue.

“I would say in the whole campaign and I travelled all around Ireland as well as visiting every Dublin constituency, if I was asked 20 times about the age of contesting the presidency, that might be a slight exaggeration. And of the 20 or so people who asked me questions on it, only two indicated any support and at one stage there was a mention of political pensions and I think that might have killed it off in its entirety.”

Mr Kenny has consistently defended the decision to put the matter to the people, saying that this was recommended by the Constitutional Convention, a forum which examined potential amendments in the Constitution. Mr Kenny also said that people had focused on the age of 21 as if it was going to be an actual contest to elect people at 21 years of age.

“In fact, the argument was, could you elect someone who was 33, 34 or 30 and that referendum was about removing the age bar.”

The Department of Public Expenditure, which approved costs for the votes, said the total estimated cost for this and the marriage referendum was going to be up to €15m. This would be split equally between both votes.

It includes costs associated with manning polling stations, counting votes, delivery of polling cards and ballot papers and the cost of running the independent referendum commission. The cost of running the court of appeal and abolition of the Seanad referendums in October 2013 was €14.4m.

While there was huge interest around the result of the marriage referendum, not one politician was present for the declaration in the presidential age vote. It was defeated with 73.1% voting no and 26.9% voting yes. Some 1,412,602 people voted against, while 520,898 voted in favour.

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