Political parties must ‘increase diversity’ as report reveals local election candidates faced racism

The logo of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which offers "assistance to people from a migrant background".

A new report has revealed that election candidates from migrant backgrounds have faced racism while campaigning. According to the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), racist abuse on social media and while canvassing was common. In one case a candidate had difficulty in booking a venue for their campaign launch. 

The ICI also stated that “migrant participation” in the election process in Ireland is “very low”. Given this, “there is significant work to be done to increase diversity within local government”. 

No diversity or representation

Published on 6 May and written by Dr Valesca Lima, The Experience of Migrant Candidates in the 2019 Local Election details the barriers that people from migrant backgrounds face when running for election.

It’s disclosed that there is an “underrepresentation of migrants” in politics. And as a result, this is “linked to poor outcomes for migrants’ interests in policymaking, especially in terms of policies for integration, job creation and housing”.

Also highlighted is the number of candidates from a migrant background running in the local elections increased from 21 in 2009 to 56 in 2019. But the same increase has not been seen amongst political parties. And as Brian Killoran, CEO of the ICI, pointed out, only nine of the 56 who ran were elected.

After the February general election 34 councillors were elected to the Dáil, with new councillors needing to be co-opted onto their local council. However, the ICI noted:

Only one of the 34 co-options was from a migrant background. 

And, overall, “migrants are still underrepresented in the political process”. 

In some cases, those who decided to run for election did so because of the lack of representation. As one candidate related:

I ran because I decided to highlight the lack of diversity, lack of diverse voices in politics.

Facing racism 

But the ICI also drew attention to the fact that many of the candidates experienced racism while campaigning. In fact, it’s revealed that 33% of those from migrant backgrounds running for office faced “astonishing instances of racism both during canvassing and also on social media”. 

As the report highlights:

Candidates from immigrant backgrounds 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.

One candidate recalled the following incident:

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.

Another was blunt in their assessment of the racism they faced:

They consider how you look and they think they can say whatever they want.

The report also argues that Irish people and the mainstream media “are not keen to promote racism” in general. But in spite of this, “there is no doubt racism has entered Irish politics”. Added to this is a “small but strong” anti-migrant discourse in politics. And this is being used in an attempt “to create segregation and tension”.

Last year a UN committee called on the Irish government to do more to tackle hate speech and racism.

Increased help

The report calls for more to be done to facilitate people from migrant backgrounds who want to enter politics. It’s stated that anti-hate speech laws and a National Action Plan Against Racism “are urgently needed”.  What’s more, the report suggests that the state “adopt measures” that will “promote political participation among migrant groups”. 

It’s also demanded that political parties “offer adequate supports for migrant candidates”. The current situation creates a “democratic deficit”. And as a result, migrants are “at the margins of the political system”. 

This was highlighted by the candidates themselves.

When asked, the most of them said they believe that “the majority of migrants are unaware of their political rights”. And this is potentially a barrier stopping migrants from voting or running in the local elections. 

Featured image via Immigrant Council of Ireland


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