Migrant election candidates say they were racially abused during campaign

Immigrant Council of Ireland report highlights underrepresentation of people from migrants backgrounds in local government

A third of local election candidates from migrant backgrounds experienced racist abuse during last year’s campaign, and political parties need to do more to support them, a report published on Wednesday finds.

Compiled by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Strength in Diversity report was discussed at an online meeting earlier at which speakers called on the next government to establish a long-promised electoral commission. This could, among other issues, examine why marginalised communities are under-represented in politics, the discussion heard.

“With just nine out of a total of 949 newly elected local councillors in Ireland from a migrant background following the 2019 local elections, there is significant work to be done to increase diversity within local government,” the report says.

The 2016 census showed non-Irish nationals accounted for about one in eight (more than 12 per cent) of the Irish population.


However, Brian Killoran, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said that when those migrants who were now Irish citizens were included, the proportion increased to about 17 per cent.

The report says the under-representation of immigrants in politics was “linked to poor outcomes for [THEIR]interests in policy-making, especially in terms of policies for integration, job creation and housing”.

Drawing on an online survey and interviews with almost half the 56 candidates from migrant backgrounds who ran in the 2019 local elections, the authors found that “a third of survey respondents and all the candidates interviewed reported experiences of racism and discrimination on the campaign.

The report says they “described receiving racist abuse on social media and experiencing anti-immigrant abuse during door-to-door canvassing, while news media reported that migrant candidates had posters taken down”.

“A candidate described people’s reaction during leafleting, when a person told her: ‘I don’t need your flyer’. Another candidate was told to ‘go back home’ during canvassing, while another had difficulties hiring a venue for a campaign launch event,” it says.

“This candidate reported: ‘I couldn’t secure a venue in a hotel or restaurant or any public place, until I asked someone to help me with this problem. The same people who refused to give me the venue accepted a booking from this person’.”

The report says political parties made less effort in last year’s campaign than they had previously to encourage migrant participation.

“While some political parties had taken proactive steps to select immigrant candidates in the past, such as implementing efforts to recruit immigrant candidates and recruiting integration officers...parties wound down their integration infrastructures in the two past local elections,” it says.

“Across the political spectrum there appeared to be less interest in reaching out to immigrant communities due to low levels of immigrant voter turnout.”

Women migrants faced additional barriers, particularly around childcare, to participation, the report found.

“Despite the efforts of those surveyed for this report, who ran such vigorous campaigns, structural barriers prevent more candidates from migrant backgrounds from running in elections. Political parties need to expand their recruitment networks and offer adequate supports for migrant candidates.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times