The Catholic bishops in Northern Ireland has issued the following statement today in advance of the Westminster Parliament Election on 8 June 2017
· Suggested questions for voters to consider putting to election candidates
"Love is civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world" – from Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Si' (para 231).
The Christian vocation to transform the world in the light of the Gospel commandment to love, includes the duty to participate as informed and co-responsible citizens in the democratic process. This includes the serious moral duty to weigh up the issues at stake in each election, to carefully consider the position of individual candidates and to vote in the manner which each individual's conscience sincerely discerns will maximise the common good and diminish objective moral evil.
It is regrettable that so many citizens today seem alienated and disheartened by the experience of politics, especially our younger people. The experience of prolonged political instability often diminishes trust and confidence in the noble vocation of politics. However understandable, it would be equally regrettable if Christians and other citizens disengaged from the political process by not voting in the forthcoming Westminster election. A fundamental responsibility of every follower of Jesus is to transform the world with hope. Every vote in favour of a more just, peaceful and caring society is a concrete and personal expression of that hope. That is why we strongly encourage all citizens to vote in the forthcoming election.
In weighing up what is at stake in this election, a number of issues suggest themselves to us as particularly important in our local context.
· In our society, more than 100,000 children live in poverty. Schools are experiencing unprecedented financial pressure, with a number planning for significant staff redundancies from September 2017. Our hospitals have experienced a challenging winter with increased pressure on committed staff working within a deteriorating infrastructure. And we continue to have significant levels of unemployment and low-wage employment. While administered by the local Assembly, these issues are directly related to funding and other policies that are determined by the Government at Westminster. It is important that this election gives voice to the particular needs and concerns of this region which for too long has been among the poorest on these islands.
· The on-going negotiations about Brexit, led by the Westminster Government, will have a profound impact on the social, economic and political future of this part of Ireland. It is vital that the government formed in Westminster following the election is sensitive to the potentially destabilising impact of Brexit on so many aspects of the lives of our citizens here.
· The political and legislative culture of the Westminster Parliament has a significant impact on a wide range of issues to do with the fundamental dignity and right to life of every person, from conception to natural death. The Gospel of Life invites every follower of Jesus to work for a world in which the inherent beauty, dignity and integrity of every person, irrespective of their stage or state of life, is fully protected and respected.
· Pope Francis has highlighted our fundamental need as Christians, and as citizens, to care for the future of our common home, the earth. He asks, "what kind of planet do we want to leave to future generations?" (LS). Westminster plays a key role in influencing legislation and policy about the future sustainability of our planet both locally and internationally. This should be a key consideration for those concerned with the common good in the forthcoming election, including continued commitment to the agreements reached at the recent Paris summit on climate change.
We encourage voters to reflect on these issues as they consider how they ought to vote. We suggest the following questions they might ask of individual candidates:
· How will you and your party best develop the employment opportunities and good housing necessary for individuals and families to lead prosperous and fulfilled lives?
· How will you and your party achieve a more environmentally sustainable society through effective public transport, the promotion of renewable energy and the reduction of waste food and packaging?
· How will you and your party protect and promote the value of every human life from conception until natural death?
· How will you and your party develop an education system that promotes the best outcomes for all young people?
· How will you and your party ensure that government commitments to resettle refugees are kept and options to expand these initiatives are considered?
· How will you and your party ensure that the developing Brexit process does not damage our society and ensure that Ireland, North and South remains an outward looking country within the community of nations?
· Regarding our constitutional status, how will you and your party promote a consensus-led society for all people?
We thank the candidates standing for election for their willingness to provide civic leadership. We also ask candidates to remember that our society cannot prosper if one section is abandoned or feels itself abandoned. Political success cannot be measured by votes alone or by the defeat of an opponent but rather by working for all sections of society with common purpose. Our society desires a credible, stable government. If this ambition is to be achieved after the general election, we will need to rebuild trust between people and parties of different political perspectives. Therefore, we urge you to reject any divisive language and actions which will hamper the development of a new, more positive political atmosphere after the election.
When we vote on 8 June next, we have an opportunity to articulate our concern for the most vulnerable in society, for the environment in which we live and for the development of a peaceful and prosperous society. Engaging constructively with the democratic process can help build a just society. We offer our sincere prayers that each one of us – the electorate and candidates – opt to take on this profound responsibility. We also encourage individuals and our local congregations to pray for wisdom on how to vote and for those standing for election.
· This statement is issued in the names of: Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland; Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore; Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down & Connor; Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry; and Monsignor Joseph McGuinness, Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Clogher. This text is available on www.catholicbishops.ie on Twitter @catholicbishops.ie and on the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference Facebook page.
· Pope Francis' encyclical letter Laudato Si' – on care for our common home - was the number one bestseller for Veritas in 2015 selling over 15,000 copies. The papal encyclical sold over 1,500 copies in 2016. Veritas, owned by the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, is Ireland's leading religious publisher and retailer. See www.veritas.ie.
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