Political Participation: Under-Representation of Immigrants in Legislative Bodies

The parochial, constituency based approach of Irish politics excludes newcomers, resulting in the under-representation of immigrants in legislative bodies, i.e. The Seanad, Dail and local councils.


Helena Clarke, Director of Public Affairs with The Integration Centre said, ‘the low levels of political participation among migrant communities should be of great concern to the Irish government and society as a whole.’


‘Migrant communities are nowhere near adequately represented in elected office and this under-representation is mirrored in political parties. With nobody to look after their interests in government, migrant communities are slow to register and vote.’


‘This political apathy is highly worrying in a modern society, as it could lead to the marginalisation of large sections of the population. The government needs to engage with all citizens to ensure a healthy and well-functioning society.’


Cllr Rotimi Adebari of Portlaoise Town Council echoes this point. ‘Immigrant communities are definitely not adequately represented. About 10% of the population are from immigrant backgrounds while only 2-3% of elected officials are. For some, they feel that there is no point in running for elected office. Politics is a numbers game and they simply don’t have the numbers. If the numbers don’t add up, you don’t get elected.’


‘Political parties need to reach out to the immigrant population. 10% is a good base of support which is currently lying idle. We need to involve this community in the running of this country. If parties were to translate some of their leaflets and manifestos it might show immigrants that they are needed and their participation is valued.’


‘You must remember that many migrants come from regions of the world where their vote does not count. Vote or don’t, the same party will be elected. They are used to this type of electoral malpractice. They have no experience of anything else so they assume that it is the same here. Those of us that are involved, realise that things are different here.’


For Cllr Adebari, political participation leaves you with peace in your mind. ‘Even if your preferred candidate does not win, you have still played your part in the administration of the country. You have influenced the decision making process and you can feel joy in your heart. Those that do not participate have no moral justification to complain when things go wrong.’


He concludes that ‘We need to increase awareness of the importance of political participation among migrant groups. Once we have achieved awareness, the individuals must decide for themselves whether to participate or not. They are then responsible.’


The Integration Centre is committed to the integration and inclusion of people from immigrant backgrounds in Ireland. The Centre specialises in planning, monitoring and advocacy at city, local, national and international levels, and it also provides regionalized information, advice and training services. Evidence-based research influences positive change in legislation, policy and practice. We have more than 250 affiliated organisations as part of our network.

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