Political parties make little effort to attract immigrant candidates

Research finds migrant voters ‘invisible’ in politics

Rotimi Adebari:  was  the only immigrant candidate who was successful in the 2009 local elections, in Portlaois. Photograph: Alan Betson/Irish Times

Rotimi Adebari: was the only immigrant candidate who was successful in the 2009 local elections, in Portlaois. Photograph: Alan Betson/Irish Times

Thu, May 8, 2014, 01:00

The main political parties have made little effort to attract immigrant candidates even though migrants will account for one in eight potential voters in the upcoming local elections, new research shows.

More than 40 immigrant candidates stood for local election in 2009, about half of them representing the main political parties. The latest figures, however, indicate that only 29 immigrant candidates are contesting the upcoming locals. Most are running as Independents, with nine attached to the main political parties.

A research document undertaken on behalf of the immigrant organisation Forum Polonia notes that five years ago, senior figures for political parties campaigned on behalf of immigrant candidates, while some parties hired officials with responsibility for recruiting immigrant candidates and members.

However, there has been little sign of this kind of engagement with immigrant voters in the run-up to the 2014 local elections.

“Debate about integration has dropped off the political radar and from the programmes of political parties,” the report states. It adds that Ireland’s immigrants are “all but invisible in the political community”, despite accounting for 17 per cent of eligible voters.

“This is especially true for the Polish community which, a decade after the enlargement of the EU, has become Ireland’s largest immigrant community and linguistic minority.”

The report, Inclusive Politics for a Diverse Republic, was authored by a team of academics including Prof Bryan Fanning, head of UCD’s school of applied social studies.

The research involved interviews with officials from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and the Greens. Sinn Féin declined to participate in the research. Some party officials questioned the benefits of targeting immigrant communities given they were unlikely to vote in large numbers.

Another senior official said immigrant candidates simply did not perform in the 2009 elections and there was little sense in supporting such candidates in 2014.

Limited success
Campaigns by immigrant organisations to spread awareness of voting rights have met limited success to date. In the 2009 elections, for example, just 16,000 immigrants were registered to vote, even though 54,000 were eligible.

All residents are entitled to vote in the local elections, unlike the general election which is restricted to Irish citizens.

Only one immigrant candidate was successful in the 2009 local elections. He was Rotimi Adebari, a Nigerian national who represented the Portlaoise electoral area in Co Laois. He is running again this year as an Independent candidate.