The Republic of Ireland will go to the polls in a week's time.
Two Catholic leaders have written a statement on what they think voters should prioritise. The Catholic Church is one body in all of Ireland and not split at the Irish border. The highest ranking clergy serve at Armagh.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh, and Bishop Michael Router, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh, wrote:
"On Saturday 8 February the people of Ireland go to the polls at a very difficult and challenging time for many in our country. Each week seems to bring its own sad news story of violence and crime, suicide, hardship or addictions. This election provides an opportunity for citizens to choose those who will govern our country and a chance to set out the changes they wish to see.
"I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Mt 25:35).
Housing: At present thousands of people are homeless in this country, among them a large number of children. Too many young couples and families are living in rented accommodation that they can barely afford. Even though they work hard, they have little prospect of owning their own home because they have been "priced out of the market", particularly in the major urban areas. The right to own one's own home is a basic human right. The next government needs to put people first and not always be bound by market forces and private developers. Each local authority must receive the necessary resources to provide affordable housing for those most in need. Ireland, as the country of "one thousand welcomes", must also consider with compassion its responsibility for welcoming the stranger and meeting the accommodation needs of those migrants and asylum seekers who come here.
"I was sick and you visited me" (Mt 25:36).
Health Care: Our health system must be enabled to put patients' needs first, reducing waiting time for treatment and ending the indignity of an ill person being left on a trolley for long periods. It will make all the difference if:
- Every medium sized town has a primary care centre to look after the basic health needs at a local level;
- More public nursing care beds are available for "step-down" services to free up beds in acute hospitals, and more home care packages are available for those who wish to receive or provide care in the home and family;
- The salary and working conditions of nurses and other frontline health workers is commensurate with their invaluable service to society.
"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10).
Crime and Gangland Violence: The Irish people are concerned about the huge increase in the sale and abuse of illegal drugs which have fuelled gangland violence and led to an erosion of law and order in many local communities. Extra resources are needed to tackle this problem at its roots, including for outreach services and rehabilitation for addicts, and for Garda support. Appropriate legislative changes must also be prioritised to effectively halt those who "get rich" on the misery of others.
"Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt 5:9).
Brexit: The Archdiocese of Armagh straddles the border and will be greatly affected by 'Brexit'. It will be extremely important that the free movement of people and goods across the border will be maintained and that the process of peace building, reconciliation and understanding on this island is not threatened in any way. Border communities need to be consulted on the financial, technical and social supports they will need to offset any negative repercussions from 'Brexit'.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right" (Mt 5:6).
A consistent culture of life: Our politicians, and all who serve the common good, have an important, but challenging, responsibility to support laws which uphold the dignity of every human person made in God's image - even when this is not the popular opinion to hold. Laws and policies that fundamentally contradict the moral law, such as those that would violate the life and integrity of any person at any stage, from conception to death, are fundamentally unjust and must be opposed, not only on the grounds of faith, but also by virtue of right reason. We must make it clear to all those seeking our vote that we expect them to support the sacredness of all human life, the dignity of the person, and the centrality of the family. In response to so many of our young people who feel passionate about the issue of climate change, and in solidarity with those marginalised and poor people in the world who are disproportionately affected, we also ask our new political representatives to lead meaningful progress in this country on climate goals and care for the environment.
It is a privilege and a social responsibility to vote in elections and something that should never be taken for granted. We encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote, and, before doing so, to question and challenge the candidates on these important issues. We also ask for prayers for our politicians - that they may build in Ireland a truly compassionate society that respects all life and puts people first."