A general election is an important moment which offers a democratic society an opportunity to reflect on its successes and failures. In Ireland we are fortunate to live in a lively democratic society, even with all its imperfections. Democracy requires in the first place that all citizens exercise their right to vote and we strongly encourage all to vote in the up-coming election.
Democracy however is not limited to voting. Democracy is fundamentally about people working and walking together to foster the common good. Democracy is damaged by indifference and by a splintering of society or a fixation on individual interests. A general election is a moment in which all citizens, and not just political parties, should reflect and take stock of the health of the nation and especially on how we respond to the plight of the most vulnerable.
Democracy flourishes when it is rooted in a shared social ethic. To succeed, good social policy requires economic stability and sustained growth. But economic growth on its own does not necessarily generate social equity. Social equity has a logic of its own which must be worked on to achieve its aim. Our comparatively wealthy Ireland has still a long path to travel in this task.
We share the anxiety of many citizens in Ireland at the fact that there is an uncertain social climate in the country regarding vital sectors of people’s lives, especially regarding health, homes, education, security, the fostering of a solid human ecology, and international responsibility.
Health: Most people feel great unease about the current health care system. They worry about what would happen to them if they became ill. They worry about the health of their children. They worry about what would happen to their parents and other elderly people should they become ill. They are worried about the cost of health care. They are worried about the quality of health care, including mental health care. Successive governments have presented a variety of solutions and in so many cases they have either failed or have not been implemented. A blame game is not the answer. Ireland’s health crisis is the result of a fundamental failure of politics.
Home: there is a crisis of homelessness, not just of those who sleep rough on our streets, but of those who are housed in inadequate and precarious accommodation especially in hotel rooms totally unsuitable for children and families. All recognise that providing adequate and affordable social housing is an essential pillar of any solution. Some more recent social housing has been poor in quality. Private rental accommodation is scarce and property market dealings are even reducing the available pool.
Education: This General election takes place on the anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the Proclamation of a Republic which set out to cherish all the children of the nation equally. There has been much discussion about inequality in access to education. We are a young country and we will urgently need more and more new schools for the future. The real inequality in Irish schools is not religious in nature but it is the economic inequality where poorer communities and schools with a large percentage of disadvantaged children are not being adequately supported. Ireland is still marred by neglect of children and of lack of opportunity for the children of the most deprived and groups such as Travellers.
Security: Citizens can only exercise their rights fully if they live within an overall climate of security. The most fundamental obligation of the State is the protection of its citizens. Recent killings on the streets of Ireland have shocked all of us. These are not simply about gangland feuds; they are the product of a criminal industry of death which unscrupulously floods our streets and our children with drugs. It is an “industry” which destroys young lives daily and which fosters even broader criminality. People feel insecure in their homes both in rural and urban communities. They will willingly support policies which will strengthen An Garda Síochána.
Human ecology: Pope Francis speaks often of climate change. But he also speaks of a “human ecology”. Austerity is not a popular word but there is another kind of austerity, that of simplicity in life-style in harmony with nature, through which all of us indicate where our real values lie, rather than in the empty values of consumerism and a rush for the superfluous. Families deserve much greater support in their work in fostering and transmitting values. A true human ecology recognises the equal right to life of every person from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. The Constitution of Ireland embraces the right to life of the unborn child. It is a fundamental affirmation of equality, where the right to life of no child is considered of less value than that of another. We strongly oppose any weakening of the affirmation of the right to life of the unborn.
International responsibility: Ireland is an island nation but not an isle of isolation. We belong within a world community. Ireland’s missionary past is a clear indication of the deep concern of the people of Ireland for the progress of peoples worldwide. As a traditionally emigrant country we share a historical memory of how our emigrants were received or at times rejected in the lands to which they moved. Now it is the time for us to reciprocate the experience of openness by welcoming to our communities people who flee from persecution, from economic exclusion or from religious discrimination. Despite economic challenges Ireland can and must maintain its commitments in international life especially recent commitments to finance development and to combat climate change.
The believer in Jesus Christ cannot separate his or her understanding of responsibility in and for society from those criteria of judgment which are set out in the Gospel:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35–36).
The Christian in politics and in society cannot renounce his or her special responsibility to protect the weak and the marginalised. This responsibility cannot be delegated or supressed to party interests or emptied into the language of spin. Politics is not just the art of the possible; it is a vocation where the interests of all citizens should respected and where the respect and trust of citizens will only be won by honesty and integrity.
As bishops we encourage all citizens to engage with and challenge their local candidates about their commitment to the questions we have indicated, and about their understanding of politics as truly working and walking together to foster the common good.
+ Eamon MARTIN
Archbishop of Armagh
President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference
Archbishop of Dublin
Vice President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference
Archbishop of Cashel and Emly
Archbishop of Tuam
Statement by Archbishop Michael Neary concerning the equal protection of the right to life of mothers and unborn children
Issues in General Election 2016
I am mindful of the many important issues which are being raised by voters and candidates in the run up to voting day for the general election on 26 February: unemployment and especially amongst our young people, emigration, rural crime, flooding, homelessness, housing, poverty; the quality of our education system; medical services; and the many challenges facing our farmers, all of which greatly affect the dignity of life for many families and individuals across our country.
Each human life is unique from conception until natural death
Of critical importance in any society is the unique value placed on each human life from the moment of conception to natural death. If life is not fully respected and protected then the very basis of our society is weakened. The Eighth Amendment guarantees the right to life of the unborn and the equal right to life of the mother.
Regrettably, some of those standing for election have declared their intention to work to remove this protection from our Constitution and laws. This simplistic approach to the most significant of issues is not only an outright attack on the unborn, but an affront to the charter of human rights enshrined in Ireland’s basic law.
If an unborn child has a life-limiting condition, it would be inhumane to withdraw the protection of the Constitution to their right to life. In this most significant of centenary years it is more pressing than ever “to cherish all the children of the nation equally” whether unborn or born, and irrespective of a child’s health status.
Broader than a faith issue
Just as education must be ‘student-centered’ so society must be ‘people-centered’. This is about life and basic human rights. It is not an exclusively ‘Catholic issue’.
Being pro-life in contemporary Ireland means, more and more, being counter-culture, being radical. However we cannot ignore the consequences of abortion for the unborn, for the voiceless. At this time we have a crucial responsibility to our future generations. Permitting abortion in difficult cases is like pulling a loose thread in a garment. There may be no definitive point at which the unraveling can be stopped.
Compassion for crisis pregnancies
Ireland’s social progress ought to be measured by how effectively we care for the most vulnerable amongst us, for example, a woman facing a crisis pregnancy. We should offer mercy, not judgement, in these situations. CURA’s 180 counsellors support women and men who face crisis pregnancies. Extending compassion, and providing tangible and creative resources to women experiencing crisis pregnancies, should be the ambition of all public policy makers.
Placing a culture of life at the centre of Election 2016
In his address to the United Nations in New York in 2015, Pope Francis said:
“The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of ever human life”.
As part of a conscientious engagement by citizens, I invite voters to ask their constituency candidates whether or not they support the sacredness of every human life, and to provide clarification about defending the weak and those who are easy to otherwise dismiss, and whose constitutional protection is now at risk.
Let us remember in our prayers the unborn child, and all who will be elected to the next Dáil and Seanad Éireann so that, as national public representatives, they may work in a self-confident way for the greater good of all and for a genuine culture of life where every citizen, especially the most vulnerable and including the voiceless child in the womb, is valued and protected.
Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of Tuam