THIS, I know, is an admission best reserved for the secrecy of the confessional: otherwise I think I’m inviting trouble. The thing is I have contracted a touch of adultism, which, I believe is the opposite of ageism - although some people would say that it’s the same thing – and every bit as destructive. In any case, this anti-youth syndrome is causing me a lot of angst and I need absolution.
My adultism has been triggered by the forthcoming referendum - the one that seeks to reduce the qualifying age for future presidential candidates from 35 to 21, and about which there is scandalously little or no public debate. We need to have, as they say, a conversation about this amendment, and take a break from the same-sex marriage issue for a while.
Unfortunately for me, the prospect of a 21-year-old raised on a diet of Harry Potter and Coca-Cola, holding sway in Aras an Uachtarain is giving me the heebie-jeebies. I mean what would I do if I was confronted by an alien from another planet who asked me to take him to my leader and the said leader still hadn’t even grown his wisdom teeth? I’d be embarrassed, to say the least. I’d be mortified altogether if the President was a pop star.
This, I fully realise, is terribly facetious and awfully unfair to young people. It isn’t as if the office demands any great vision or leadership skills, or even life experience. It’s a very lucrative position from which 21 to 34 year olds are currently debarred, even though it’s illegal to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of age.
Actually, if I had my way I’d abolish it altogether and save the tax-payer the expense of maintaining the largely ceremonial role and resolve the age issue once and for all. But I don’t ever get my way, do I? Anyway it’s the nearest thing we have to a monarchy, and quite a few of us are closet monarchists.
So why then do I not want to see a 21-year-old on the throne? Because, as I said at the outset, I have a nasty dose of adultism, as well as a huge generational hang up and a suspicion that the young are getting it too easy these days compared to what we had to endure. It’s generation envy, I think. The older I get, the wider the generation gap grows and the more paranoid I become about the cult of youth. Everywhere I look, this cult holds sway, accompanied, unfortunately by rampant ageism and growing pressure to resort to botox and hair dye, and to lie about your age. I fear it would be even worse if we had a youthful President.
I’m afraid I’d feel more at home with the likes of Robert Mugabe who was 91 recently and Queen Elizabeth who is 89, and the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, who is 83. You have no idea what a consolation it was to learn that the current King of Thailand actually ascended the throne before I was even born. I had mixed feelings however, when I heard that Madonna, who epitomised the youth cult at a time when I, myself, was entering the terrifying territory of middle age, is now railing against the affects of ageism on her career.
Back home, twenty somethings are even taking over the country’s rich list, which is particularly annoying when you’re on a pension. Sometimes I think I’m living in Tir na nOg, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that I have a wealth of experience that is of interest to nobody, on top of a deeply furrowed brow – not to talk of the odd arthritic twinge. This is no country for old men, or women for that matter. The only thing we oldies have left to call our own is the Presidency. So let’s hold on to it then. After all, it was instituted as a suitable position for retiring politicians, not as a springboard to a glittering career for a young go-getter. It would be wasted on the youth!
Those in favour of the amendment will, no doubt, point out that great leadership isn’t necessarily the preserve of the elders or the wise, and we might well be missing out by excluding the under 35’s from future presidential races. After all, Alexander the Great was well on the way to conquering the known world when he was just 16 and Napoleon was only 26 when he was appointed General of the Army of Italy. If Joan of Arc had been forced to wait until she was 35 before leading her army, the cause would have been lost. But really, none of those youthful worthies would have had even the slightest interest in running for the Aras – not during their youth anyway.
To be fair to young people, I don’t even know if they want to see the Constitution amended so as to enable them to have a shot at the Presidency. They’re not exactly jumping up and down with glee at the prospect of attaining such high office and living in the former Vice-regal lodge. If they have any sense they’ll see the Presidency for what it is – an anachronistic and powerless institution in an already overloaded administration.
On the other hand, if they have more sense than I give them credit for, they’ll refuse to be patronised by the people who really hold the reins of power. Either way, it will be interesting to see how many of them will turn out to vote on polling day.