High achieving interns remind TDs of potential of 12 per cent immigrant vote

In Crosscare project immigrants who intern with TDs learn a lot but have plenty to teach

Interns at Leinster House: L to R, Sheelan Yousefizadeh, TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Ebisinbofa Charles Titus, TD Tony McLoughlin and Larysa Karankovich. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Interns at Leinster House: L to R, Sheelan Yousefizadeh, TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Ebisinbofa Charles Titus, TD Tony McLoughlin and Larysa Karankovich. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Mon, Jul 28, 2014, 01:00

Ireland is not the only country with an ambivalent attitude to its first language. Larysa Karankovich points to a similar problem in her home country of Belarus, where just 25 per cent of the population, mostly in the regions, speak Belarusian daily but “everyone speaks Russian”.

Now an Irish citizen, Karankovich is one of four immigrants, who have spent the past six months working part-time for TDs in the Oireachtas, looking at the issues of the day, as part of the Crosscare migrant project, an information and advocacy project for immigrants.

Crosscare is the social support agency of the Dublin Archdiocese and runs the intern programme to help enhance immigrant integration in Irish society and participation in the political system.

Migrant project policy officer Joe O’Brien said many immigrants who are not citizens are unaware that they can vote.

“We want to demystify the whole political system for immigrants,” he said. Many come from countries where politics is viewed with fear and as exclusively for the rich. Crosscare wants to show them that “the political system is for them”.

Crosscare looked at the Westminster system where interns shadow MPs but introduced a more interactive scheme in 2012 where high-achieving interns go through a rigorous recruitment and interviewing process. Twenty have been involved in the scheme to date. “We pick those well connected in their community or interested in getting involved long-term in politics, though that’s not a requirement.”

Karankovich is interested in the non-governmental-organisation sector. Noting the similarities in the language debate, she also highlights other comparable international issues, including undocumented workers. It is estimated there are 50,000 such Irish workers in the US but there are similarly affected immigrants in Ireland, believed to be in the thousands although there is no official figure.

Work permits

The issue was dealt with in the Work Permits Bill, passed before the Oireachtas recess and a debate Karankovich followed closely as an immigrant interning with Fine Gael TD Tony McLoughlin. Her role included doing research, preparing press releases, some constituency work and observing the legislative process.

“It’s been great to be in the Dáil when the work permit system was being discussed and to see how the politicians as policy-makers, view it,” she said.

The 34-year-old had a positive work-permit experience with her employer but knows many others who had major problems and welcomes the decision to offer bridging visas for immigrants who previously had work permits.

“Generally people’s attitudes to migrants are very good compared to other countries,” she says. Ireland’s emigrant experience is a contributory factor although sympathy for migrants has dropped since so many Irish are forced to emigrate themselves.