The number of non-Irish candidates for the local elections has risen this year. According to the 2016 census, 810,406 residents in Ireland were born outside the country, an increase of 43,636 on 2011.
Tomorrow, 50 ‘new Irish’ candidates will appear on ballot papers up and down the country: Irish residents born outside of Ireland, or who subsequently gained Irish citizenship after moving. That’s a rise of 40% on the 2014 local elections, and 62% on 2009.
But ‘new Irish’ representation on local authorities remains minimal. In 2014, just two non-Irish-born candidates were elected: Labour’s Elena Secas in Limerick East and Sinn Féin’s Edmond Lukusa in Mulhuddart.
People Before Profit South Dublin county councillor Madeline Johansson was co-opted to replace Gino Kenny in 2016, but of these three names, only Secas and Johansson are running this time around. But that might change tomorrow. Some of the new irish candidates are optimistic.
Running in Cork County Council’s Carrigaline municipal district, 19-year-old Catriona Reid is one of the youngest local candidates in the country (she will sit her Leaving Cert in two weeks). Her father, Gordon, is running in Bandon-Kinsale. Catriona relocated here, with her family, from Romania, when she was five and says she would love for more people from minority backgrounds go into politics.
“If people, whether of a different race, religion, orientation, et cetera, see themselves represented in politics, they are more likely to be encouraged to engage and less likely to feel disenfranchised,” she says.
"As someone born in Romania, what he was saying obviously affected me.”
Catriona says Ireland is more progressive than her native Romania, pointing to our landmark vote on gay marriage in 2015. Joking that she and Gordon, who is also running for the Green Party in Bandon-Kinsale, have a “father-and-son duo going on”, she adds: “It has been hectic, studying for the Leaving Cert, while also running a campaign, but my teachers and friends have been so supportive.
“I’ve even had people coming up to me from school that I wouldn’t normally talk to much, which is really nice.”
In Limerick City West, Fianna Fáil’s Abul Kalam Azad Talukder, right, is aiming to become the first Muslim elected to Limerick City and County Council. Having lived in Ireland for 19 years, since moving from Bangladesh, he originally got involved in Fianna Fáil back in 2004, aiding the migrant community.
Abul says diversity on local authorities is crucial, if children born in Ireland to parents from migrant communities are to stay here.
“Talking to residents on the doors, they have been very welcoming, and even candidates from opposition parties have been very supportive, too,” he says.
“The reliability of public transport is coming up as a big issue for people, as well as environmental concerns and housing. Two or three years ago, a two-bed apartment in Limerick city was €400-€500 per month. Now, it’s at about €900. It’s incredible.
“It’s personally not about winning or losing for me on Friday, it’s about working for my community, for Limerick. I want to show my two daughters, who were born here, that those from migrant backgrounds can become part of a community here and that we are not outsiders: we are all the same.
“If we don’t, in 20 years we will lose them.”
Like Abul, Yousuf Janab Ali is also from Bangladesh and has spent almost 20 years living in Ireland. Running independently in the Skibbereen-West Cork municipal district, Yousuf has a business in the town and also works part-time in the Clonakilty Hotel.
Chairman of the Clonakilty Islamic Cultural Centre of West Cork and a speaker of six languages, he has set up initiatives to support the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and, earlier this year, travelled for the second time to his native country to volunteer at one of the Rohingya camps.
“As an independent candidate, my main focus will be to promote West Cork as a tourist destination, support and promote local businesses, work for better educational facilities, help older and disabled people, increase playground amenities, and resolve housing issues,” he says.
“It is my hope to bring my organisational skills and experience to the people of West Cork and be a voice for diversity in our multicultural, progressive society.”