Call for election focus on immigrants

 

The next government must put in place measures to increase the participation of migrants and new communities in political life, immigrant representatives urged.

The ‘Count Us In’ campaign was launched by the Immigrant Council of Ireland outside Leinster House today.

Over 35,000 people were granted Irish citizenship through naturalisation between 1995 and April 2009, the council said. Some 100,000 British citizens - the largest migrant community in Ireland – also have the right to vote here.

The council has called for the appointment of a migrant representative to the Seanad.

Dr Fidèle Mutwarasibo, integration manager with the ICI, said migrants were frequently ignored by election candidates and their canvassers.

“Migrants make up 10 per cent of our population, but are not represented in Leinster House at all. We would urge the next Government to address this by including a migrant representative in Seanad Éireann as a Taoiseach’s appointee," he said.

“We are hearing constantly from migrants - many of whom are Irish citizens with the right to vote - that candidates simply don’t bother engaging with them because they automatically assume they can’t vote,” he said.

Originally from Rwanda, Dr Mutwarasibo has lived in Ireland since 1995 and has been an Irish citizen since 2003.

“I’m very politically engaged and I’ve every intention of voting in this election. Yet when I encounter canvassers out on the streets, they don’t bother to engage with me because I don’t fit their stereotype of what looks and sounds Irish.”

He appealed to candidates and their canvassers to pay more attention to migrants living in their constituencies.

“Ireland is a diverse society now, and politicians need to recognise that somebody’s skin colour or accent is not necessarily an indicator of their citizenship status or voting rights.”

He said that in many constituencies, a handful of votes could decide who gets elected and who does not.

The immigrant council said many measures included in the National Action Plan Against Racism from 2005 to 2008, including some aimed at enhancing the participation of ethnic minorities in politics, were never implemented.

 “Worryingly, there is also a growing perception - both politically and publicly - that migrant issues are no longer relevant because the rate of immigration to Ireland is falling," Dr Mutwarasibo said. He said some parties no longer had a spokesperson on migrant issue and said others paid “scant attention” to such issues in their election manifestos.

A number of people who have been granted Irish citizenship and who will be voting in the general election attended today’s launch.

Nusha Yonkova, originally from Bulgaria, moved to Ireland in 1997 and has been working with the Immigrant Council of Ireland since 2004. She first voted in the 2007 general election and will cast her ballot in the Dublin North East constituency.

“I respect the right to vote in general. People have fought for it for years, especially minorities and women. So it’s important that we exercise our right and vote.”