VICTORIA WHITE: Every adult should have an equal opportunity to run for presidency

Ownership of the highest office in the land is an important symbol andevery adult's chance to pitch for it is just basic equality.

It’s critical we turn around as a society and give young adults the respect accorded to adulthood, the respect they deserve, writes Victoria White

SOMETIMES I’m glad I’m not young any more. Like when I look at opinion polls showing 64% of the population is against lowering the age at which a person can even try to be President to 21 years.

I didn’t say 14. I didn’t say 16. I didn’t even say 18, the age at which you should be able to run for the presidency if there were any justice. I said 21. The latest poll shows a thumping majority of voters are against it.

So what are we saying? You’re all grown up by the time you’re 35? Spare a thought for the denizens of Zambia whose average life expectancy has climbed in the past decade from 33 to 43. At least we in Ireland usually have some time left after our Mammies and Daddies fork out for our Sweet 35th birthday parties.

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Still, there is the question of what to do with all those years when you can drive a car, get married and vote in elections but aren’t grown up. And that’s one of the key questions facing Irish society right now.

We can’t cope with young adults. We are threatened by their energy, their enthusiasm, their sexuality, their looks, their ideas. Gifted with the youngest population in the EU we waste the resource by attempting to warehouse our young people until their mid-20s at least.

Make them all go to college whether they want to or not. Then make them all do a Masters. Don’t invest in apprenticeships and don’t, for God’s sake, give one of them a chance on a shop or factory floor. If you give them money they’ll only buy drugs.

When they don’t want to go to college, or can’t, and they can’t find work because there is an itsy-bitsy problem in this country of a youth unemployment rate of more than 21%, don’t give them dole, give them pocket money.

What does cutting unemployment assistance for young adults under 25 from €144 to €100 a week — a process we completed last year — actually say? That young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 should eat less? That they should put their hands out to Mammy and Daddy and ask for their support, as if Mammy and Daddy have not done enough for them already?

Now I’m not for a moment saying that dole is the answer for young adults. Jobs and education are the answers. For when they’re not available, young adults under the age of 18 should not be sent routinely to their parents with their begging bowls.

Some of them don’t get on with their parents. They are adults. They need the respect that comes with independence. Our failure to “launch” our young adults is in my view one of the main factors behind the shocking and spiralling levels of mental ill-health in young adults.

A 2012 research study among young adults between the ages of 12 and 25 in Ireland found over a third to be outside the normal range for depression and anxiety. One in five of the 17- to 25-year-olds had engaged in deliberate self-harm. Half of these had engaged in suicidal ideation and 7% had attempted suicide.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in 15- to 24-year-olds. Ireland has the fourth highest youth suicide rate in the EU. For these young people there is no future, with or without mental health issues, and theirs is the ultimate tragedy. But spare a thought, too, for the thousands who have to live their whole lives with mental illness which started when they were young people.

Youth mental illness is a problem throughout the West, where young people’s psychological and mental health has never been worse. Certainly recent decades have seen a massive increase in our material wellbeing and physical health in Ireland. But in some areas of youth mental ill health we are leading the posse. And perhaps this is not surprising considering our ingrained culture as a gerentrocracy, or as James Joyce put it, “the sow who eats her farrow.”

Think of all those twisted middle-aged people in our 20th century plays and poems, from Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘The Great Hunger’ to Tom Murphy’s Conversations on a Homecoming. A decision to keep what few resources there were, whether it was the farm or the grocery shop, in the hands of the old. A terror that the young would reproduce and divide the spoils, threatening the status-quo.

My parents’ marriage at 22 was considered scandalous. Now we are the oldest mothers in Europe, with the mother’s age at the birth of a first child up to 32 years old. 32! People blather on about teenage pregnancy when mothers under 20 now account for 2% of births. Perhaps we should focus more on the massive rise in the numbers of mothers over 40 who face far more perils than younger mothers. Unless they opt for donor eggs. This newspaper reported that Dr Hans Arce of Madrid’s Institut Marques has seen a “sharp spike” in the number of Irishwomen in their late 40s seeking their services. He says this will be “part of our normality, very, very soon.”

So that’s our idea of “normality”, harvesting the history, culture and genetic identity of cash-starved young women so that middle-aged Irish women, who as Dr Arce says, “have worked, have wanted to travel” can have their “own babies”?

It’s critical we turn around as a society and give young adults the respect accorded to adulthood, the respect they deserve. That means that middle-aged and elderly people must let go of some of their sense of entitlement and that would be no bad thing.

AGREE with Oliver Moran of Second Republic that the proposed lowering of the age of the President is not the radical change which the Constitutional Convention suggested: 94% were in favour of giving citizens a say in the nomination process; 78% were in favour of the vote on the presidency being extended to emigrants and north of the border; while only 50% agreed with lowering the age limit.

I agree with Professor Colum Kenny that the Referendum is a “public relations gimmick” which fails to address the serious issues facing young people.

And I have watched with horror as the very Government which crafted this limited Amendment abandoned it to its fate, with even the Tánaiste predicting it was going to fail.

All the more reason to shout “Yes!” Ownership of the highest office in the land is an important symbol and every adult’s chance to pitch for it is just basic equality. Show them you understand this with a mighty “Yes” vote and see it as the starting line in the race to win back dignity and respect for our young adults.

Visit our special Referendum 2015 section for all the latest news and analysis

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