The forthcoming General Election will be an important moment in Irish history. A right to vote is one that we should treasure and use. Indeed, we have a responsibility to use our vote wisely as the Government and policies of the next five years will be decided on Friday 26 February. Our politicians provide a vital service to the community. Their job is a difficult one and they deserve our respect. We should, however, also engage with them when they call looking for our vote. Our priorities and views must be reflected by our politicians. That is why we vote for them.
The last few years have been difficult for all sectors of Irish society. However, it is well known that the vulnerable have felt that austerity more. There is now a clear choice emerging as to whether we want a reduction in taxes or an increase in funding for vital services, healthcare and security being just two of the topical examples. There are others of course. The scandal of homelessness is now at crisis point and is particularly distressing in relation to children who find themselves in hostels and hotels while trying to continue with their primary and post primary education. We now have more homeless than at any other time in modern history. There is no moral justification for a lack of housing. It is an issue that demands investment. The regional co-ordination of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul told me recently that they are dealing with a cohort of new poor, many of whom were contributors to the charity in the past. Many of those on low incomes are in a similar situation. The next government must address this problem with a reduction of taxes for those on lower incomes.
Unemployment, especially that in some areas of the county, is tracing deep furrows in the hearts of the people. As a result of the lack of jobs for people, especially young people, over 200,000 people have left Ireland during the past six years.
In Cork, a number of issues are of vital importance to our communities. The recent floods resulted in heartbreak and financial ruin in many towns. Those who suffered are looking to our politicians for help. We should remember them in our discussions with our politicians. The much celebrated economic recovery is not as evident in parts of Cork as it might be elsewhere. Tourism and initiatives like the Wild Atlantic Way represent an important injection of capital into many rural areas. The future of Cork Airport is critical for the economic wellbeing as well as industrial and tourism enterprises in the county. Over the past few years, Cork?s links to Europe have been reduced and there seems to be no progress on an American link. These are important issues for our public representatives before the election.
The media has consistently drawn our attention to the issue of an overcrowded, understaffed healthcare system where elderly patients and those who are chronically ill are consigned to endless queues and trollies on corridors. This denies the dignity of the human person. I, like many more, have seen this during visits to hospitals.
The vast majority of refugees who have experienced great hardship, violence and suffering are good and law-abiding people. The refugee crisis is one which is threatening to destabilise governments across Europe. Refugees must respect the values, laws and traditions of the host countries. Ireland and Europe must address this question as a matter of urgency while respecting the need to follow proper procedures and security checks.
Indeed, the greatest issue for all of us is the dignity of the human person. This covers poverty, unemployment, healthcare and it also covers life in the womb. It is likely that there will be pressure to repeal the 8th Amendment after the election.
In the debate, there will be frequent references to fatal foetal abnormalities. In fact the word fatal is misleading since there is no medical evidence, none whatsoever, where a doctor can predict, with certainty, the lifespan of babies before they are born. Parents often say that the time they have with their baby, however short, is very precious. Pope Francis has asked us to support people in difficult situations with mercy and love, always recognising the unique dignity of every individual including the child in the womb.
The term incompatible with life, which is also used, is a hurtful phrase since it implies that a babys life is worthless. It is sad that a child?s life-limiting condition is being used to promote the agenda of those who seek to legalise abortion on much wider grounds. Candidates in the election should be questioned politely but firmly, not just on their future intentions but on their past record. The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act (2013) directly targeted the life of the unborn child and did so in the full knowledge that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal feelings.
In the context of abortion, the Church teaches that it is wrong to confuse the necessary medical treatment to save the life of a mother and which does not intend to harm the baby with abortion which deliberately takes the life of a child.
We are presented with an opportunity to shape the type of society that we want on 26 February. The decision is a significant one and which deserves our serious consideration. We should not consider just our own needs but the wider good and we should be respectful of those who seek our mandate. Democracy is dependent on citizens who are willing to serve.