Monday 24 October 2016

Apathy no more, time to vote well

Published 07/02/2016 | 02:30

President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Aras An Uachtarain where the Dail was dissolved. Photo: Steve Humphreys
President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Aras An Uachtarain where the Dail was dissolved. Photo: Steve Humphreys

It is often said that citizens have a duty to vote and that it is better to vote than to abstain from voting and, for the most part, that is true with the caveat that there is also an obligation to vote well, that is, to do so morally and with knowledge to the common good.

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In the five years since the last general election the citizens of this country have been engaged in an often passionate debate about what might be loosely described as the nature of governance, or, more specifically, on their differing interpretations of what is the common good.

For the most part, those who have participated in this debate, privately or in a public forum - be they based on the left, centre or right of the political spectrum - have expressed sincerely held views which may be, to varying degrees, in stark contradiction with each other but are no less sincerely held.

As a direct consequence of events in the years immediately before the last election, and political actions taken in the aftermath of that election, a new phenomenon arose which was referred to as the "disillusioned" voter, or even the "disillusioned" citizen, because it is not entirely certain if this citizen has ever or regularly voted.

In the last general election less than 70pc of those entitled to vote actually turned out to vote at a time when the country had experienced and was still to go through some of the most seismic events to have occurred in living memory.

The fact that one-third of those entitled to vote decided to exercise their right not to vote in 2011 is not particularly unusual in this country or throughout western democracies, but it is a disappointment all the same that they should choose to stand aside.

The word "disillusioned" seems to have disappeared from the native political lexicon in recent times to be replaced with "undecided", that is, those voters who we must believe have yet to make up their minds how they will vote in this general election.

It is the view of this newspaper that the time for apathy and disillusionment is at an end. If voters have something to say, then they should get out and say it at the ballot box for whichever political party, or none, for whichever of those dutiful candidates who have stepped forward to offer themselves to the electorate for the common good.

However, if it is the choice of such voters to remain apathetic or disillusioned, to wilfully not decide, then that is their right too; but at least three-quarters of the electorate, and hopefully more than that, will decide to do more than snipe from the side lines in three weeks' time and will have their voices heard.

When those voices are heard there will then be a profound duty of those dutiful political parties and candidates to listen carefully and, accordingly, to form a representative government to lead this country for the next five years, a first step into the next 100 years and into a new Republic of all the citizens.

That's democracy for you, folks; that's all it is, and it is a wonderful thing. So whether you are 18 or 80 and beyond or between, get out and vote and play your part in the common good on February 26.

Sunday Independent

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