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Urging a focus on social justice

Comment & Opinion

ELECTION MATTERS Issues of social justice, such as housing and homelessness, care for the environment and tolerance, need urgent attention.

Opinion

Bishop Alan McGuckian

Voting is the right and privilege of every responsible citizen. It is also the practical and concrete contribution that every voter can make to advance the fundamental politics of the common good. I therefore urge all citizens who can vote in the election on February 8 to do so.
As Chair of the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, I wish to highlight a number of issues of concern that voters may wish to raise with candidates. The Catholic Church does not support or align itself with any political party, however the matters of justice and peace I outline are important issues facing our society at this time, which all politicians seeking election should aim to address – in particular, housing and homelessness; care for the environment; and tolerance in our society.
The dignity which we recognise in every person must be reflected in the reality of life in our society. In 2018, the bishops’ pastoral letter ‘A Room at the Inn?’ highlighted some of the root causes of the housing crisis and offered solidarity with anyone experiencing homelessness. It also reiterated our belief that safe, affordable and appropriate housing is a human right.  
The pastoral letter proposed some key lines of action with regard to housing. These included: That the provision of housing is not left solely to the market and is not treated in the same way as any other commodity; that social housing provision is increased urgently and substantially; that immediate action is taken to increase the supply and reduce the price of housing; that fair pricing and security of tenure is secured in the private rental sector; that there is constitutional recognition of the right to housing.
I echo Pope Francis in saying ‘there is no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing’.
We are all now aware of the increasing need for urgent action to protect our planet, our common home, and preserve it for future generations. Recent extreme weather events signal to us the devastating impact of inaction. In our own country we are witnessing the loss of species and biodiversity which played their role in the beauty, richness and delicate balance of God’s creation.
I urge politicians to prioritise immediate action on the environment, which not only affects us nationally but has global consequences, unjustifiably hitting hardest those who contributed least to the problem in the developing world.
They also need to ensure that certain sectors of our society, such as the agricultural sector and those already experiencing poverty, are not disproportionately disadvantaged by climate-related policies.
War, authoritarian regimes, economic deprivation and climate change continue to force people to take dangerous and arduous journeys seeking hope and a better life on farther shores. In Ireland, we are not strangers to emigration, which has for centuries dominated our history as a people. Our ancestors were grateful for opportunities to escape famine and destitution and to be allowed to contribute through our work, talents and values to the enhancement of the new societies to which we travelled.  
Refugees and asylum seekers now arrive on our shores. As Christians, we should seek to welcome them as our sisters and brothers. I call on any newly elected government to seek to provide the most humane solutions to the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees. They also need to consult with and learn from local communities where accommodation has been put in place or is planned.
Such consultation is crucial to gaining the trust of the local community and to finding appropriate long-term solutions that will lead to the integration and flourishing of those coming to our country seeking refuge. It will also ensure that concerns and questions which local communities legitimately have are not exploited by those seeking to sow division and fear.
Our Council, as well as my fellow bishops, have been concerned at the increase in incidents of intolerant and racist language and actions by a small minority in our country, which has always been known for the warmth of its welcome. Our governments have a responsibility here too. Intolerant language should have no place in political discourse.
As the election draws near I pray for wisdom and right judgement for all our political leaders. The future Government must be firm in prioritising the common good. It must also be steadfast in its commitment to ensuring the best outcome from Brexit for the whole island and remain committed to peace in Northern Ireland and to developing and maintaining positive relationships with our neighbours in the UK and Europe.  

Bishop Alan McGuckian, SJ, is Bishop of Raphoe and chair of the Bishops’ Council for Justice and Peace.