Alison Healy, Irish Times, June 16, 2010
THERE WAS a 44 per cent increase in the number of immigrants who voted in last year’s local elections, following a campaign which encouraged more immigrants to register and vote.
The campaign, by the Africa Centre and the New Communities Partnership, aimed to encourage 10,0000 more immigrants in 10 local authority areas to get involved in the June elections. An additional 15,681 immigrants registered and voted in those 10 areas.
While Irish citizens may vote in all elections and referendums, non-EU citizens may only vote in local elections. British citizens may vote in Dáil, European and local elections, while other EU citizens outside Britain may vote in European and local elections.
Eric Yao, of the Africa Centre, said there had been an increase in immigrant candidates standing for election and “although we didn’t see a lot of immigrant candidates winning the election, we think this is a first step in the right direction”.
Prof Bryan Fanning of UCD’s school of applied social studies said immigrants would not have political clout until a significant number became Irish citizens.
He said almost half of all applications for citizenship from eligible long-term residents were turned down in Ireland, compared with just 9 per cent in the UK.
“So civil servants pretty much are saying that one in two immigrants will never get to vote in this country,” he said. “Comparatively speaking, there is something odd about how the Irish State is responding to immigrants. There is something very, very impoverished about its commitment to integration.”
He urged immigrant communities to focus on a campaign of turning immigrants into Irish citizens. “If a significant number of immigrants are Irish citizens, political parties are interested in immigrants all the way along. They are interested potentially in grooming immigrant candidates for general elections,” Prof Fanning said.
He pointed to the possibility that Dublin citizens would elect their lord mayor for the first time later this year and said if immigrants were on the voting register their views could be reflected in the city’s politics.
Issah Huseini, of the New Communities Partnership, said it took an immigrant at least eight years to have the right to vote in a general election here, as it took five years to apply for citizenship and another three for the process to be completed. “It reinforces the perception that immigrants are outsiders notwithstanding the number of years they’ve lived in the country,” he said.
Minister of State for Integration Mary White said it was “vital” that immigrants be encouraged to participate to the greatest extent possible in the political system.
“People from migrant backgrounds bring a new perspective, experience and vision to local and national politics,” she said.