More than 200 migrants register to vote for first time in Cork

More than 200 immigrants have registered to vote for the first time, and several hundred more are expected to sign up, as part of a massive voter registration drive in Cork.

And one of them, a microbiologist from India, has decided to run for election as an independent candidate.

Dr Lekha Menon Margassery, originally from southern India but who has lived and worked in Cork for almost a decade, confirmed her intention to contest for a seat on Cork City Council in May.

Dr Lekha Menon Margassery who is standing as an independent candidate in Cork City for the local elections in May. Picture: Eoin English.

Dr Margassery, a part-time demonstrator in UCC’s department of microbiology and president of UCC’s Indian Alumni Society, said she wanted to be a voice for the estimated 400 Indian families living in Cork, and for the wider migrant community here.

“I am Indian by heart: Irish by soul. My main motive to run for election is to tackle problems regarding housing and transport, as well as something for asylum seekers,” she said.

“I didn’t know an immigrant could vote here.

"We were not aware of it until I took part in a workshop as part of this campaign, and that made me think: we didn’t make use of the vote, and yet we had the power.”

She said through her alumni work at UCC, she has received countless messages from international students raising concerns about lack of suitable housing and inadequate public transport.

But she said non-Irish families arriving here to work are also finding it difficult to source and secure accommodation.

She was speaking at the latest Shape Your City voter registration event at the Cork Migrant Centre, at Nano Nagle Place.

The centre supports the integration of immigrants with a special focus on those at risk of poverty, social exclusion, exploitation and discrimination.

Gulnaz Aaqif Muhammad, left, with Deborah Oniah, right, and her daughter, Munachi, registering to vote at the Shape Your City voter registration event at the Cork Migrant Centre at Nano Nagle Place in Cork.

Dozens of asylum seekers living in direct provision centres in the city and county were among those who registered today. EU citizens can vote at European and local elections.

Non-EU citizens can vote in local elections, and British citizens can vote in national, local and EU elections.

Stephen Murphy, a social inclusion development worker at Cork City Council, said the message of the campaign is simple.

“If you are living in Cork for more than six months, you have a right to register to vote and we can help you to do that,” he said.

"We are looking to get more people who are new to the city to register to vote, to get better representation for people who have to come to the city to work, or to live here."

Shape Your City events have taken place at some of Cork’s biggest employers with large multinational workforces, including Voxpro, Johnson Controls, and Marriot Hotels.

The campaign will visit Dell EMC’s three sites next week.

Since 2011, only eight counties recorded an increase in their non-Irish national population. Cork city saw the largest increase with non-Irish nationals making up 14.1% of those living in the city in 2016.

Data released this week shows that over 42% of the population living in the city centre are non-Irish nationals.

Nationally, around 12% of the population is made up of migrants but just 31 non-Irish candidates ran in the 2014 local elections, with three elected.

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