This is the text of a press release received today. I think it’s worth reproducing in full.
The next Government must implement specific measures to increase the participation of new communities in political life, including the appointment of a migrant representative to Seanad Éireann. That’s according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), which today launched a campaign aimed at highlighting the voting power of new Irish citizens.
The campaign – ‘Count Us In’ – was launched to remind political parties and candidates that thousands of those voting in the general election will be people who have migrated to Ireland and have been granted citizenship in recent years. Between 1995 and April 2009, over 35,000* people were granted citizenship through naturalisation. British citizens – who are the largest migrant community in Ireland (numbering over 100,000, according to the last Census) – also have the right to vote.
Speaking at today’s launch, Dr. Fidèle Mutwarasibo, Integration Manager with the ICI, said migrants are frequently ignored by election candidates and their canvassers, a mistake that could prove costly when it comes to polling day.
“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.
“I come from Rwanda, but I’ve lived here since 1995 and I’ve 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.
“With the ‘Count Us In’ campaign, we’re appealing 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. In this election, in many constituencies, a handful of votes could decide who gets elected and who does not. As such, candidates could pay a heavy price for ignoring the voting power of naturalised Irish citizens.”
The National Action Plan Against Racism, which covered the period 2005 to 2008, included a number of measures aimed at enhancing the participation of cultural and ethnic minorities in politics. However, according to the ICI, many of these were never implemented and political parties still need to do more to engage with migrant communities on an ongoing basis.
“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,” said Dr. Mutwarasibo. “Some political parties, for example, no longer have a spokesperson on migrant issues, while others paid scant attention to migrant issues in their election manifestoes. And it is noteworthy that the three migrant candidates in this election are all standing as independents.
“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.
“No matter what parties make up the next government and what political reforms are introduced, facilitating migrant representation at national government level would be an important first step in demonstrating a real commitment to increasing the participation of migrants in our political system. It would also demonstrate an understanding of the permanent nature of the immigration we witnessed here in recent decades: many of those who moved here have – like me – now made Ireland their home.”
Today’s launch was attended by a number of people who have been granted Irish citizenship over the past two decades and who will be voting in the general election.
The ‘Count Us In’ campaign has been organised by the ICI with support from the Integration Office of Dublin City Council.
*Figures based on responses to parliamentary questions and Eurostat statistics.