Immigrants face barriers to voting in local elections

Migrants still face tough barriers to voting in local elections, it was claimed today.

A UCD study found many still did not realise they had a right to vote, while others had concerns about attending a garda station to get on the electoral register.

The university claimed many migrants were haunted by experiences of police in their home country and called for voter registration to be handled by local authorities.

Dr Bryan Fanning, UCD School of Applied Social Science, said: “The right to participate in local elections offers a crucial mechanism for integrating non-citizen immigrants into Irish society.

“All potential barriers preventing immigrants from voting in local elections must be tackled.”

Dr Fanning said all political parties bar Sinn Fein were fielding immigrant candidates in the June poll and parties had made moves to encourage immigrants to vote.

But he added efforts to integrate migrants will be wasted unless the parties develop ways to listen to their immigrant members.

The main findings of the “New Irish Politics: Political Parties and Immigrants in 2009” study are:

:: Although efforts have been made to encourage immigrants entitled to vote in local elections onto the electoral register, immigrant candidates, members of political parties, and individuals active in voter registration campaigns claim many immigrants do not realise they are entitled to vote.

:: Unless more immigrants get the right to vote in general elections their needs are likely to be ignored as they were in the 2007 general election.

There needs to be active promotion of naturalisation among members of the immigrant community in Ireland.

:: Political parties find it difficult to measure the success of their efforts to reach out to immigrants and members of ethnic minorities.

Dr Fanning said many of the parties did not know how many members were from migrant backgrounds and were forced to go through membership lists studying surnames.

The university said both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael appointed integration officers and ran high profile campaigns to attract Polish members, but no similar efforts have been made to attract Africans.

This is despite the fact that Africans were the most politically engaged in the 2004 elections and collectively represent the second largest immigrant community in the Republic after Poles.

All five parties were asked questions for the study and then interviews were carried out with officials involved in working with immigrants on their behalf, including immigrant candidates.

The report was carried out on behalf of UCD’s Migration and Citizenship Initiative.

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