Friday 28 October 2016

With three days to go, voters need answers

Published 18/05/2015 | 02:30

Bishop Martin Drennan
Bishop Martin Drennan

Timing is vital in politics. So, the Catholic bishops will hope their intervention on the same-sex marriage debate is timed right on this occasion.

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With three days to go to polling, two archbishops and five bishops in Dublin, Cashel & Emly, Galway, Killala, Ossory, Ferns and Elphin, have called for a 'No' vote. It is their right to do this and it is an important part of our political discourse. Equally, it is the voters' right to make up their own minds.

Some of the bishops also raise important points which are not entirely new to the debate. But these points are now given more emphasis at a time when many voters are seriously considering how they will vote on Friday.

The bishops, in essence, are questioning politicians' reassurances that they can continue to teach the Catholic Church's belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. They raise questions about whether legally they can continue to teach this way in schools and not be open to successful court challenge. The points they raise must be seriously engaged with at this crucial period in the referendum campaign. On the one hand, it is clear that not even the most eminent lawyers can predict the outcome of future constitutional court challenges.

Against that, we have managed through social changes in the recent past without provoking a deluge of court cases disrupting our social services, notably education. The voters are entitled to a non-emotive exposition of the issues involved here, and they are entitled to it in the short period of time remaining between now and polling day.

To date, the debate has been dignified and respectful in the main, even if it has lacked a little in impact. Now that voters are beginning to focus seriously on things, it is important that this level of decorum is maintained, without any ducking of the vital issues. The latest turn in the same-sex marriage debate has come just as opinion polls have shown that 'No' is gaining in strength, albeit from a low base. That development makes a continued debate, which is both measured and informed, imperative for our citizens.

Public discussion on such issues has in the past degenerated into vulgar abuse. There must be no repeat of such behaviour.

Irish Independent

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