Dáil’s newest TD wants politics taught in school

Helen McEntee: 'Lower voting age to 16 or 17'

The newest TD in the Dáil has called for the voting age to be lowered to 16 for all elections and for politics to be taught in the school curriculum so young people take a greater interest in it.

Helen McEntee said the hours were long and it was not family friendly, but more women should be encouraged to enter politics as it was a fantastic job where one can make a difference.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, she also spoke about the whip voting system operated by Fine Gael in the Dáil and the challenges facing a TD.

She said Junior Certificate students learn a little in Civic, Social, and Political Education, but it is not enough and does not include details on political parties and the wider system. “I think it should be put on the programme.”

She said the voting age should be lowered to 16 or 17 so young people would begin and continue to vote as they grow older.

The Government has already agreed to hold a referendum on lowering the voting age to 16, as suggested by the Constitutional Convention.

“If you’re at home, your parents are more likely to get you to go and vote. It could be 16 or 17.”

A Fine Gael backbencher, she spoke about the reality of being a TD: “I might want to do something for one person and it might have a knock-on effect. You can’t just change or bend the rules.

“Even when I worked with Dad [the late TD Shane McEntee] I thought I had an insight into things, but not near as much as I thought I did [when I got elected].

“Before you come you think if you’re not speaking, you’re not doing anything if you’re not contributing on the Dáil floor.

“In reality, the more you’re in the House the less you actually get done. When you’re sitting in the chamber, you’re not dealing with constituents, you’re not dealing with issues, you’re not working on things.”

Ms McEntee, 27, took over her father seat in a byelection last year, and said ministers do listen to TDs.

“My Dad was a prime example of that with regards to the pyrite which was an issue which started from other backbenchers and got brought up to ministerial level.”

She said one of the most difficult situations she has faced since being elected was how to help a woman in her constituency who was suicidal because a bank threatened to sell the family home.

“She was saying that she’s in a very bad state herself... It’s very hard to listen to someone say that if they don’t get help then that’s [it]. If somebody tells you they’re at that stage and you think, ‘if I can’t help them or what if something happens’. There’s an urgency about it.”

She said it was a difficult case to deal with because of her late father, who took his own life, but said it “would be difficult for anyone”.

The woman’s position had since improved and a deal agreed with the bank, Ms McEntee added.

She also said she approves of the Fine Gael whip system, where TDs vote according to party orders, and adds that it should remain in place.

She said Irish politics was not family friendly, but that this also applied to men.

“It’s very hard when there are only men there to encourage more women to become involved. You need to be able to show more women that it is a fantastic job; that yes the hours are long, it might not be the most family friendly, yes there are a lot of men involved.

“But if you love it enough, if you’re able to stand up and speak and give your own opinion, then it’s a fantastic job.”

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