Exam weather is upon us. The sun is shining, the school shirt sleeves are rolled up and that palpable nervous tension resonates across secondary schools. Some may be relaxed, knowing they have done their research; others may be feeling the pressure to cram.

This is also true for many adults that know that the day to vote is creeping up, but just like some Leaving Cert students, they’ve been procrastinating on doing their homework.

In some ways, it can be easier to know who to vote for locally – we are familiar with the issues that are on the ground, that affect us directly and it can feel more accessible to gauge a candidate’s stance on those matters.

Voting for who to represent us at European level can feel a bit more abstract but who we sent to Brussels matters. It matters that they are representing the views of Irish people accurately; it matters that they are forming alliances with the appropriate political groups; it matters to the future of the CAP; to our defence; to the security of Europe including the security of our food supply; to trade – both internally and externally; to the multiannual financial framework; and the Nature Restoration Law. The environmental issues and agricultural legislation discussed in parliament filter down through every farmgate and the people that we vote for in the coming weeks are responsible for voicing those concerns.

Juicy questions

Geographically, we may be on the periphery of Europe but distance seems to matter less and less. Who would have thought three years ago that the issue of Ukrainian sovereignty would really matter to us when they are so far away? But when Russia invaded that Eastern European country, we felt the impact in our fuel bills both in homes and on farms as well as inflation and restrictions on our food. So it’s important to do your homework, and ask the right questions.

Also we must be aware of the limitations of MEPs and the European Parliament, in relation to the nitrates derogation for example. As our political correspondent Pat O’Toole has written about in recent weeks, despite the time dedicated to the issue at hustings around the country, this is not an issue for the parliament. If you vote for MEPs based on their opinions on derogation then it is a misunderstanding of their functions. Instead, it will be the Irish Government that will seek the next derogation, so save all those juicy questions for that campaign, whenever it may be.

We’re all entitled to our opinions and there is many a politician that enjoys a lively debate but there is a line

Whatever your political orientation is though, it’s important to be respectful. We’re all entitled to our opinions and there is many a politician that enjoys a lively debate but there is a line. Last week, a report was published by the Task Force on Safe Participation in Political Life. The Task Force was set up in response to reports that an increasing level of abuse, including online abuse, harassment and intimidation is being experienced by those who participate in political life; and the report showed that abuse is most prevalent, problematic and targeted disproportionately at women and minority groups. It contains 16 actionable recommendations which range from research requirements, security and safety, strategy co-ordination to address drivers of abuse, the role of political parties and social media.

Across the board, respect is key and the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl summed it up by saying: “Democracy must allow for debate, disagreement and different opinions however, when disagreement strays into abuse and intimidation, this stifles healthy debate and must be challenged.”