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Children cannot be the forgotten constituency in this election

Posted on February 21, 2011 at 06:34 PM

Children cannot be the forgotten constituency - Eamon Gilmore at the launch of Labour's Manifesto for Children
Eamon Gilmore at the launch of Labour's Manifesto for Children

The Labour Leader Eamon Gilmore speaking at St. Nicholas of Myra Parish Centre, Carman's Hall, Dublin 8

This is a once in a generation election. The choice that we, all of us, together, make on Friday, will shape our country for decades to come.

The Government that is elected on Friday, has immediate and urgent challenges to face. But the decisions it takes will affect how it is to grow up, and raise a family, and grow old in Ireland, years from now.

The choice that this generation makes on Friday, will truly shape the lives of the next generation.

This election is about economics. It is about banks and interest rates and government budgets. That is as it should be. We have debated those issues for weeks, and we will continue to debate them right up to polling day. BUT, they matter because of what they mean for families. And yet, so far in this election, we have hardly talked about families at all.

In an election campaign, we have to talk about families, and we have to talk about values. Because they both matter, and because, if we don't talk about them now, then when will we talk about them? Let's not wait until after the election to talk about families, because then it will be too late.

Family is so important in Ireland. For the vast majority of us, it is the number one priority in our lives. The one constant that keeps us going. It is often the chief topic of personal conversations - ups and downs, fallings out and bridges mended, parents sick or teenagers causing headaches.

Yet, family is so rarely talked about in the public conversation. The conversation that's carried on in our newspapers, or on the radio, or by politicians.

The same is true of children. It feels like the only time children - their lives, their rights, their wellbeing - are talked about in public is when something dreadful happens. When their country has failed them.

I believe that's not good enough. I want to live in a country that does not fail families. That does not fail children. And I want to talk about what we can do to make sure that happens now - not wait until it is too late.

We are all of us members of a family, even if we are a family of one. And family is central to how we live our lives. Families have good days and bad days. Families come in every shape and size. But family is where we live and work and cope, and love, and learn. Families matter.

And we have to talk about values, because this election campaign is not an accounting exercise. I have views and policies about the economy, and I will debate them and defend them. But there are things that matter, that cannot be measured in money. Like the values that guide and steer our country. Like what it is that we teach our young people is important.

Families matter, and families are hurting. The recession has cost 300,000 people their jobs - those people are not statistics. They are not even just workers - they are mothers and fathers, and children, who were bringing home a pay packet, and are not any more.

They are people that I meet on the canvass, at home in the middle of the day, who only want one thing - to work. They are the people I meet on the canvass, whose sons and daughters have left, to look for work elsewhere. And you know, when you meet them, that one part of them thinks that it might be a good experience to travel abroad for a while, and another part of them fears that their children will not come home. That their grandchildren will be strangers.

Families are hurting when a parent says to me, look we can manage, but when my daughter does her leaving cert next year, I won't have the money for her to college. Families are hurting when people are put to the pin of their collar to pay the bills and meet the mortgage, and have been hit hard by the universal social charge.

In the video to the right you can hear audio from today

This election is about international economics and government budgets, but it is also about home economics and the family budget.

The first thing we can do is make sure families can stay afloat in this recession. That means making sure that anyone in trouble with their mortgage, who is making an honest effort to pay their debts, should have a guarantee that for at least two years, they will not lose their home.

That means no more hikes in income tax for anyone earning less than €100,000, because families have taken enough of a hit.

But it also means looking after the small things that can really stretch families. Like not cutting child benefit any further. Enough is enough. Families can take no more.

And looking after families means looking beyond their front door too. Looking at the kind of country we are, and the kind of country we want - not just for ourselves, but for our children too.

In this election, the country is broken up into 43 constituencies. But there is a 44th constituency - the people who don't have votes - our children.

Children cannot be the forgotten constituency in this election.

Families will always put their children first, but they deserve support from their Government. They deserve a Government that understands what it is to struggle with the bills. They deserve a Government that will make sure there are good schools. They deserve a Government that knows what it is to have to worry where you will find the money to pay the doctor, when your child is sick. They deserve a Government that believes that children have a value, that is beyond money, but that money for children matters too.

Families will always put their children first, but none of us can raise our children entirely on our own. We need good schools. We need good health services. We need safe places for our children to play.

And we need a country, a society, that supports the values that we teach our children.

Because, as any parent knows, if you say or do something, it won't be long before you see your children play it back to you.

So if we, as adults in this society - adults who vote and who lead - tell our children and our young people, that it's every man and woman for themselves. Then don't be surprised when our children and young people grow farther apart from each other. Grow farther apart from the generation that raised them.

In this election, we have to talk about, not just about who governs our country, but the values that govern our society.

This is our country. We should be the ones who set the values. Like saying that it should be utterly unthinkable that a teenager thinks the way to settle an argument is to pull a knife.

Like saying that we want our children to judge each other, not just on what you earn, or by the label on your jeans, but on what you give back to the community.

Like saying that there is too much alcohol in too many of our children's lives, and that is something that needs to change

Like saying that if our children should not be asked to grow up too quickly, so that they can become young consumers.

Like saying that too many of our children are dying on our roads.

Like saying that no child should leave school unable to read

Like saying that greed is not good - especially when it is at the top in our Government and the banks.

Like saying that it is in service to each other, that we find the best in ourselves.

No one political party can lead a conversation about values on its own. Just as none of us can change our country on our own. This is a debate that involves all of us.

But the values of Government do matter. We need a Government that gives priority to the needs of families. We will only get that Government if we choose it. Each of us has to make up our mind how we vote on Friday. But together, on Friday, we can change our country. And we can elect the fair and balanced Government that families need.

Eamon Gilmore TD

Leader of the Labour Party

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