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Migrant graduates of leadership course encouraged to run in local elections


More members of Ireland’s migrant community should feel supported and empowered to run in local elections so that Irish politics properly reflects the diversity of this society, the Minister of State for Community Development has said.

Speaking to graduates from the Immigrant Council of Ireland’s (ICI) political leadership programme, Joe O’Brien highlighted the low number of counsellors with a migrant background, despite the growing diversity around the country.

Some 12 of the 949 counsellors elected in 2019 have migrant backgrounds, representing just over 1 per cent of all counsellors, he said.

“We should really be looking at 100 people at least if it’s to be in any way reflective or proportionate of our society at large,” the Minister told attendees at Saturday’s graduation ceremony in Dublin’s Epic museum.

He encouraged the 26 graduates from the council’s programme to strongly consider running in the 2024 local elections because “regardless of your result, simply putting yourself out there and standing up will show leadership and examples to others and young people from your communities”.

Beryl Ohas, Aaron Koay and Bomi So at the graduation event. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan
Beryl Ohas, Aaron Koay and Bomi So at the graduation event. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan

“We just don’t have enough diverse faces on the posters that go up on the poles every four or five years.”

ICI integration manager Teresa Buczkowska noted that Fianna Fáil councillor Uruemu Adejinmi, who was elected as mayor of Longford last year, graduated from the migrant councillor scheme in 2018. Graduates of the 2020 programme ran the ‘We are here too’ campaign to improve supports for migrant women who are victims of domestic violence, she added.

Ireland is an increasingly diverse society, with one in eight of us coming from a migrant background,” said Ms Buczkowska. “The reality, however, is that us migrants don’t see ourselves represented in many key sectors of Irish society, including the social justice sector. Migrants should be included in conversations on issues affecting us, from housing, education and discrimination to immigration policy reform and more.

“Representation and participation of migrant communities makes our democracy stronger. Ireland is our home and we should be taking an active part in making the decisions about the future. We already have an amazing pool of talented and inspiring vital leaders, we just need to find them and we need to provide them with access to platforms.”

To make alliances you have to go out there and give people chances and you have to listen. And that’s how we build

Berly Ohas, an LGBTQI activist originally from Kenya who graduated from the Migrant Leadership Academy, said that before taking part she didn’t feel she had “an opportunity to talk” or “for people to see who we really are”.

“In order to succeed, you need to make alliances like I learned during the programme. And to make alliances you have to go out there and give people chances and you have to listen. And that’s how we build.”

Lola Gonzalez, who is from Panama and grew up in the United States, said she became interested in Irish politics following the 2019 local elections. “Belonging is defined as gaining acceptance and attention and support from members of a group as well as providing the same attention to other members.

“As migrants, we may feel a sense of longing during our lifetimes when we decide to leave our countries. Belonging helps us to become productive members of the society.”

Ms Gonzalez said her three month internship with Fianna Fáil councillor Sean McGowan had inspired her to run for local election in her home county of Leitrim in the future. “As Malala Yousafzai once said, ‘there’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or stand up’.”



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