Tackle child poverty, drugs and defend right to life urge NI bishops before elections

Tackle child poverty, drugs and defend right to life urge NI bishops before elections Primate of All-Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh pictured in procession in St Mel's Cathedral.

The bishops of the North of Ireland have called on all voters to “maximise the good” by taking part in the July 4 Westminster elections and offered advice on what choices to make based on Catholic Social Teaching.

In their pastoral reflection ‘Give Reasons to Hope’ issued on Tuesday the bishops highlighted the fact decisions in the Westminster parliament impact the lives of every person in the North in a fundamental way and all people should exercise their “hard-won” right to vote.

The prelates continued, warning of a growing breakdown in social cohesion and hope, saying: “It is no coincidence that in this environment, our society is also reporting an unprecedented crisis in mental health, not least among younger people and children. Nor is it unrelated that in homes throughout Derry and Belfast, to the most rural areas of the north, the social ‘normalisation’ of illegal and legal mind-altering drugs is reaching epidemic levels.

“People also express concern to us about a growing culture of aggression and lack of civility in all aspects of life, fuelled in particular by the lack of regulation of social media,” they said.

The bishops encouraged voters to ask questions of politicians such as: What are you going to do to improve the quality and tone of public debate, and to improve social cohesion by modelling shared concern for the common good? What are you going to do to improve the quality of the lives of all, especially the most vulnerable, beyond your own personal or party interest?

“The well-being of society, especially of the young and most vulnerable, is the fundamental vocation of politics. Few citizens, we believe, would say that our society here is functioning well. We encourage our politicians, in their noble vocation, to strive for a vision of society that brings genuine hope and flourishing to the lives of all. In this election, give us reasons to hope!” the bishops urged.


Focusing on the right to life, the bishops stated that through the Westminster parliament the respect for the fundamental right to life “has been subjected to a reductionist political culture, where people are valued more and more for their utility, or their positive cost to benefit analysis, rather than for their inherent dignity”.

They called on the Faithful to ask candidates: What will you do to uphold the right to life of every person, from conception to natural death? What will you do to ensure the most vulnerable, at the beginning or end of their life, will not be at risk from pressure or harm from others to have their lives ended or to end it for themselves? What position will you take in forthcoming Westminster debates about introducing euthanasia and even more radical laws extending the limits on abortion, and discriminating against those in the womb with disabilities?

Give them reasons to hope by providing adequate residential, expert multi-disciplinary support to set them free to live their lives again with confidence and purpose”

There is “near epidemic levels of substance abuse, and the violent criminal industry in legal and illegal drugs that sustains it” the bishops continued, highlighting another “rapidly growing threat to life and hope in our society”.

They said there is a need for the removal or reduction in criminal penalties for the possession and use of small quantities of drugs, in favour of treating such situations as a public health issue, and prioritising treatment, care, education programmes and longer-term personal development.

They stated: “Give them reasons to hope by providing adequate residential, expert multi-disciplinary support to set them free to live their lives again with confidence and purpose.”
The bishops added that North of Ireland does not have, but urgently needs expert, multi-disciplinary residential care for those who have become addicted to drugs specifically.

Child poverty

The prelates highlighted that many families are “suffering real financial hardships” and lack of access to health and social services, “which are at breaking point”.

Recent data shows that the equivalent of 26.3% of the population is on a hospital waiting list in the North, while across our schools, the spending per pupil on education is consistently lower than in England and adequate resources for Special Education Needs services continues to fall far short, despite rapid growth in the number of children requiring SEN assistance over the past ten years.

“The introduction by the outgoing Westminster government of a two-child cap on child benefit was, quite simply, socially and morally abhorrent. This tax on having children has compounded the levels of child poverty in the north, which continue to be among the highest on these islands, despite the promises of devolution. We continue our appeal to all politicians across these islands, to make the eradication of the totally unacceptable levels of child poverty here an urgent priority in public policy,” said the bishops, adding: “This serious underfunding of Northern Ireland by the UK government undermines local democracy and further erodes confidence in politics. There is a strong case for a needs-based analysis to be undertaken in the application of funding to Northern Ireland due to the particular economic and social deficits here.”

Among other questions, they advised voters to ask candidates: What will you do to improve the dire levels of childhood poverty and levels of working poor in Northern Ireland? Will you work to remove to the socially and morally abhorrent two-child benefit cap, and work to urgently reduce child poverty in Northern Ireland?

 As Christians, it is our duty not only to welcome them as we would welcome any stranger, but also to enable these newcomers to belong in our communities, including in our parishes and congregations”

The bishops cited figures from the Department for Communities, which found the number of households considered to be ‘statutorily homeless’ is 10,349, with 45,105 applicants on the social housing waiting list. Of these applicants, 32,633 are in ‘housing distress’. They called on people to challenge politicians on how they will address the housing crisis.

Focusing on migrants, they highlighted that many migrated to the North to work and play a “critical role in the delivery of our public services, particularly in healthcare”.

“Others have come here because of war, displacement, persecution, or economic oppression. As Christians, it is our duty not only to welcome them as we would welcome any stranger, but also to enable these newcomers to belong in our communities, including in our parishes and congregations. We call upon our successful election candidates to ensure proper planning, adequate funding and delivery of services for all of the community, including our newcomers,” they said.


The bishops also raised the need to appreciate and adequately fund faith, community and voluntary sectors in the North which provide services across health, social services, family supports, the arts, social enterprise and local community services.

They warned that these services “are endangered through lack of funding and failure by politicians to fully appreciate their essential contribution. It is often only when the services have to be radically reduced or shut down completely, that people realise the invaluable contribution they make to areas such as disability awareness, marriage and relationships counselling, health and wellbeing services to the elderly, vulnerable children, the lonely, and to those disproportionately facing poverty and socio-economic disadvantage”.
“The UK’s exit from the European Social Fund has made this situation worse, coupled with the slowness in the delivery of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which is resulting in lack of certainty in terms of community-based services from April of 2025. We need our elected politicians to appreciate and advocate for our community and voluntary sector and to work urgently to restore, if not improve their levels of funding for their vital work in building up social cohesion, well-being and hope.”

Looking at justice and reconciliation issues, they said: “A consistent ethic of life prizes justice as fundamental for peaceful coexistence in society. The passing of the recent NI Troubles (Legacy & Reconciliation) legislation at Westminster has added further pain to the already gaping wounds that many people across all our communities are being forced to carry. This legislation does nothing for the restoration of relationships and reconciliation. We urge those who will be elected in this election to continue to raise this question with the incoming government and to ensure that promises to repeal the legislation will be acted upon as soon as possible by any new government.”