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A century of democracy: Use your influence and vote

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, voting in the Presidential Election

Irish voters will face a busy time on May 24, with decisions to be made at European, national and local level.

The European and local election campaigns are now underway in earnest, with candidates in both contests now legally entitled to erect posters, although many of them have already flouted the law in that regard.

Voters will also be deciding on the referendum to ease divorce restrictions and to remove the minimum waiting period from the Constitution. In Cork, Limerick and Waterford voters will participate in a plebiscite to establish if they want directly elected mayors to take over decision-making and administrative functions currently conducted by the chief executives of their local authorities.

It is important that those going to the polls exercise their franchise at all levels. Elections to the European Parliament — the world’s only transnational parliament that is directly elected — are taking place during a period of political turmoil for the EU.

This is likely to be the most important European Parliament election ever and will witness an epic battle between candidates and political parties committed to making the EU stronger and more united and those from the extremes of right and left who want to unravel the union.

Every Irish seat will count in that struggle. We may not have a large population to make us powerful but we have shown that we can be influential. That requires engagement at all levels of the political process.

Our most senior politicians have already shown the way. The reason why the border has become the central issue in Brexit negotiations is because former Taoiseach Enda Kenny did the footwork from Brussels to Berlin to make it so, followed by Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

Brussels and Strasbourg may seem far away from us here and we may feel powerless over Brexit, but decisions made at European level affect our everyday lives in a profound way. That is why it is so important to vote for candidates that are serious about their responsibilities and mindful of their duty to the electorate. We can do without the mavericks and joke candidates.

European Parliament elections are clearly of great significance, but national and local decision making are also important. While Brexit, health, education and homelessness have dominated political debate at national level for the past two years, the provision of housing and planning development are the responsibility of local authorities. That means local election candidates should be made to make a full account of themselves in the delivery of these essential services. The vote on divorce is a time for personal reflection while the issue of directly elected mayors needs careful and mature consideration.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Irish democracy. The best way to celebrate that landmark is to take the trouble to become informed of the most important issues, to quiz sitting candidates on their performance as well as their promises and, most importantly, to exercise our franchise.

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