Grace O ‘Sullivan Column

I couldn’t get away with writing a column this week without at least mentioning the election!Hard to get away with it in a week where I’ve been hearing non-stop questions out there about government formation or otherwise: who should? Will they? How? Will ye? Should ye? The list could keep us going for the day.

Of course, locally, I’m very happy to see my colleague Marc Ó Cathasaigh elected. Marc is a committed, capable, articulate and strong man. He’s a married primary school teacher and father of three young boys, with all the experience that goes along with those roles. He’s also the Green Party Spokesperson on Social Protection, and he genuinely cares about the needs of society’s most vulnerable. He will be an asset to Waterford in the Dáil.

I actually started out thinking that this week’s column wasn’t going to be about the election at all. Well, not really. I had intended to write about a very special art exhibition, with just a fleeting reference to the election. When I sat down to write though, I realised the two were actually quite intertwined.

The one thing that seems clear to me from the results and the way votes were cast for and against the various players, is that the people of Ireland voted in favour of common decency.

While Fine Gael and the scaffolding crew that kept them in place for the past few years might have been making some progress in terms of getting the economy back on a stable footing, the people of this country said it was at too high a cost to those most urgently, most immediately in need of help.
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This was a result that said: we are essentially a people with a strong sense of right and wrong. We’d stop to help a fallen man to his feet. We’re a people who will not stand by and avert our eyes when we see suffering.

In the early days of the campaign, when a homeless man in a tent suffered life-changing injuries in the horrific and unimaginable moment a massive machine bulldozed his flimsy home, there was, I believe, a shift in the electorate. That was the moment when people said – ah come on, enough is enough.

And so, the electorate came out to say to a leadership they felt wasn’t listening: these are the things we care about: homelessness, healthcare, support for the most needy and vulnerable.

They also made it clear that they care about the environment, about Climate Change and the loss of wildlife and habitat that is happening on a massive global scale. This, despite the absence of these topics in the debates and media throughout the campaign. That says a lot to me. We have a mature and informed electorate who want change in these areas too.

The overarching message is clear. The electorate want a government that sees homelessness, health and the environment as top priorities. The people want a government that looks after the most pressing current and future needs of the voiceless in our society: the needy, the sick, the vulnerable and our children who need a healthy planet if they’re to survive into the future.

All these ideas of fairness and decency and looking after the most vulnerable were crystallised for me, when I went to the opening of an art exhibition on Friday. It was an exhibition called Meeting of Minds, which featured collaborative work from the Meeting Place artists and Word Weavers writing group.

My daughter Emer is one of the artists, so I speak from first-hand experience when I say this exhibition represents all that can be good and right when services are supported with the sort of resources that can enhance quality of life and just make life happier for people.

Of course, sadly, in the areas where people are most acutely vulnerable, this country has a diminishing record in terms of funding and other resources. Day in, day out I hear of the incredible work of volunteers who are relied upon to enhance even the services that do get funding. It’s wonderful to have such good-hearted people, so giving of their time and energy, but the lack of funding around areas such as disability, mental health, resource education etc. is truly staggering. I have personal experience of the lengths people have to go to secure basic rights, basic resources and even the most basic support.

This, in my view, is at the heart of what this election was about: people wanting the leaders we elect to show a bit of humanity, to representcore values and simple kindness.

The Meeting of Minds exhibition runs at the Coastguard Centre in Tramore until March 4th. It’s a powerful exhibition, filled with colour and fun and love. It’s well worth a visit.

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