Happy and proud to vote, Ireland’s new citizens exercise their democratic right

Some 31% of Balbriggan population made up of non-Irish ethnicities

Nicole and Artwell Gani voting in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Jade Wilson

Nicole and Artwell Gani voting in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Jade Wilson

 

The population of the Co Dublin seaside town Balbriggan has grown hugely in recent years - it now has the youngest population in Ireland and is one of the most multicultural towns.

Some 31 per cent of the population is made up of non-Irish ethnicities, which means many new citizens are casting their first votes in an Irish General Election today.

“This is my first time voting here in Ireland. It’s nice to have a voice and I’m proud to vote because I like to fight for good,” Kalpana O’Brien said. Ms O’Brien moved to Ireland from Mauritius in 2008 and became a citizen last year.

Kalpana and Gerry O’Brien voting in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Jade Wilson
Kalpana and Gerry O’Brien voting in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Jade Wilson

Ms O’Brien was excited to receive her voting card and had been checking the post for it every day for the past week. “I was waiting and waiting and when it finally came I felt so happy and proud to be a citizen of Ireland,” she said.

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Ms O’Brien’s husband, Gerry O’Brien, said he was delighted to accompany his wife to the local polling station for her first vote. “It’s great to see her walk in there today and contribute, she has an interest in politics and wants to change the dynamic here.

Nicole Gani (21) was born in Zimbabwe and moved to Ireland with her family in 2008. Today was her first vote in a General Election. “For me, this is about seeing change being brought about because things aren’t great currently in terms of health services, for example. So I’m inclined to vote for people who will do the most on that. But it’s great we can even vote in the first place as women and black women, and that we get to put forward what we want to see to the people representing us.”

Abinbola Makinwa voting in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Jade Wilson
Abinbola Makinwa voting in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Jade Wilson

Ms Gani’s father, Artwell Gani, accompanied his daughter to the polling station at St Molaga’s National School today. He said he was “very happy” that he and his daughter can vote in Ireland. Mr Artwell had his citizenship on time to vote in the 2016 General Election and remarked that this time around, he was looking for a party who would “address issues like housing and homelessness”.

Tony Gomina, originally from Nigeria, became a citizen here four years ago and said: “It feels good to be able to help shape policy and decide who will govern the country. It’s quite a good experience.” Mr Gomina said the issue of inclusivity is important to him as an immigrant voter. He described Balbriggan as a “nice and multicultural place to live” but said “politicians here need to start talking about inclusiveness.

“I have three masters degrees and yet I don’t seem to have the kind of job that suits my qualifications. We’re not given the opportunity to get that experience. I pray the better candidate wins who will move this country forward.”

Abinbola Makinwa, from Nigeria, says he has lived here so long that “people call me Paddy”. Mr Makinwa moved to Ireland 24 years ago, got his citizenship 12 years ago and has voted “many times” in Ireland since then. “It is very important for me. It’s good to have my vote counted as a minority in the community and have my say, to be part of the movement for change and to vote for someone who will do the right thing for the people,” he said.

By noon today, the turnout at St Molaga’s National School polling station was 18.5 per cent. The consensus in the election office is that as the election is taking place on a Saturday, polling stations will see a steadier flow of voters throughout the day instead of the rush that is seen on Fridays.