Elaine Loughlin, Irish Examiner, September 10, 2018
Political parties could be forced to fill 40% of their nominations with women, migrants, and people from ethnic minorities under a new local election quota system.
A Local Government Bill due to be published before the end of the year will set quotas to encourage more diversity in politics.
Around 12% of the population is now made up of migrants but just 31 non-Irish candidates ran in the last local elections in 2014, with three being elected.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland hopes that the number of migrant candidates will dramatically increase, with at least one non-Irish candidate contesting in every constituency in next year’s local elections.
Minister of state for local government and electoral reform, John Paul Phelan, is working on the bill ahead of the 2019 local elections. Under the new measures, political parties would lose out on funding if they fail to put forward candidates from diverse backgrounds.
Parties who meet the quotas would receive money to hire an equality and diversity officer who would promote and support more integration in politics.
Gender quotas have been introduced for general elections; however, there are currently no stipulations at local level.
While the Women’s Council of Ireland and other groups have been pushing for gender quotas at local political level, it is now understood that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government wants to broaden these thresholds to include migrants and other minorities such as members of the Travelling Community.
Mr Phelan expects that quotas will be set somewhere between 30% and 40%.
He said: “We are unusual in that we give everyone a local election vote.”
Despite the fact that every ordinary resident in Ireland is allowed to vote, with no stipulation around how long a person must be here before that eligibility applies, many people do not know their voting rights.
Anyone who is ordinarily resident in Ireland can also stand for local election.
The Carlow-Kilkenny TD said: “The most important thing is registration and that people know that they are entitled to be on the register and to cast a vote as long as they are over 18; it’s a freedom that doesn’t exist in many countries.
“But then also it’s about getting people to put themselves forward, that’s a big jump, to go the whole hog and become a candidate, but in time I am sure we will see more candidates from migrant and minority backgrounds putting themselves forward,” he said.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland is also working with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on a multilingual information campaign.
Integration outreach officer with the Immigrant Council, Joe O’Brien, said: “We need people to start running, to diversify the ballot paper, to put some colour on the posters up on the poles. We are not going to bridge the gap in one election cycle, it is going to take a few.
“We need to test the waters and we are saying to people, try it out, we will give you guidance, don’t be disappointed if you don’t win, run a campaign that you can get something out of.”
Mr O’Brien added: “We need people to be groundbreakers, we need people to be role models in the community, we need people to make a stand on a particular issue. We are saying you can use the local election campaign as a way of raising issues, be they local or national.”