Monday 19 November 2018

2018 promises to be a tumultuous and divisive year for Irish politics

Editorial Comment

Politically speaking 2017 was a lively year in Ireland - the last few months in particular - but the next 12 months promise to be even more tumultuous.

While a General Election still remains a distinct possibility- and most politicians are firmly on an election footing - it is almost certain that we will be going to the polls at least once this year.

In the next six months Ireland is expected to hold a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment.

Abortion has long been one the single most divisive issues in Irish politics and the debate leading up to the vote - whenever it eventually happens - is likely to be bitter and vitriolic.

Unfortunately, based on the experience of previous referenda on abortion and divorce, the debate is also likely to be switched to focus on a myriad of side issues and not the question that is actually before the people.

The referendum contest hasn't properly commenced but the battle lines have been drawn and already the conservative right and liberal left have both proven themselves capable of vicious tactics.

Such is the level of vitriol that many people - including some prominent media commentators - have openly said that they are now afraid to voice an opinion on the Eighth amendment for fear of the abuse they would receive online.

In an open democracy such as the one we enjoy in Ireland that is nothing short of shameful. The very notion of democracy is founded on a persons ability to hold and form their own opinions without fear of retribution or vilification.

You may not agree with someone but they have every right, as you do, to hold an opinion contrary to yours.

For many voters the repeal of the eighth amendment - unlike the gay marriage vote - is far from a black and white issue.

A huge number of voters remain undecided and in order to make up their minds they need to see numerous issues clarified, not least what will actually happen should the people vote to repeal.

There is a real danger that if the debate is allowed rage out of control that these vital answers will get lost in the fog of claims, counters claims, 'fake news' and, in some cases, outright lies.

It seems sadly unlikely but was can only hope that some sense prevails and the referendum on this life and death issue is allowed proceed in an orderly and civil manner.

The repeal referendum may not be the only time that we go to a polling station this year though the other contest, the presidential election, is likely to be a less politically fraught affair.

There have been many suggestions that the incumbent Michael D Higgins be returned unopposed if he seeks a second term.

President Higgins has proven to be a popular president but lets not forget that he wasn't the first choice of most voters in 2011, when he received just 39 per cent of the first preference vote.

Whatever your opinion of the largely ceremonial position the President is our head of state and the office deserves more respect.

Surely going to the polling station once every seven years isn't too much to ask of people.

Enniscorthy Guardian