On Saturday 11th May, Labour Intercultural held an event on the Impact of Ethnic Minorities in Irish politics. This event came about when Remba Osengo, a member of the Labour Party in DunLaoghaire approached the group to organise a conference where ethnic minority community leaders could engage with the party and it’s public representatives.
Speaking at the event Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton noted the changes in her own constituency, Dublin West, over the past twenty years. She emphasised how Ireland has only a small fraction of time to adapt to a multi-ethnic population compared to countries such as Britain giving the examples of the UK and Germany where the process happened ‘over a 50-60 year period’.
The minister said there was room for improvement, but Ireland had done relatively well in absorbing the many new arrivals from different countries since the Celtic Tiger period. â€œTwenty years ago Ireland was very homogeneous,â€ she told the audience largely composed of ethnic community representatives.
Professor Bryan Fanning from UCD addressing the event said that members of ethnic minorities who wanted to stand for public office should root themselves in their local community. He added that people did not have to be full citizens to stand in local elections, and there have been some successes in that arena, such as Nigerian-born Rotimi Adebari, who became mayor of Portlaoise in 2007.
“Maybe they [members of minorities] need to be more vociferous in what they are asking for,â€ Professor Fanning said. He said Ireland was an interesting contrast in that it had â€œa society that is very diverse, and polity that is very monocultural.”
Dublin MEP Emer Costello, noted the number of new citizens since the the government had come into office and encouraged them to register to vote and to use their vote in referendums and elections. She said that
Dr Jaroslaw Plachecki, lecturer in social sciences at Dublin City University and editor of the Irish Polish Society Review, told the gathering that his experience of young Polish people in Ireland was that they knew practically nothing about the political process.
Also Speaking at the event was Solicitor Michelle Lee, who informed the audience of the employment law situation for immigrants.
Labour Intercultural will be holding similar events in the future and working with the elected representatives in the Labour Party to ensure that the issues of ethnic minorities are highlighted.
By Karen McCormack (Co-Chair 087 293 2828)
The Labour party is in the midst of an internal storm. A storm the leadership is trying to control. We are not used to such events in the Labour party, associating them more with their partner FG and even more with the heyday of FF. However, heaves are not easy to organise or execute, just ask Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar. It’s a game that requires huge political tact.
So the first thing to ask is why are Labour in this position? That’s simple, firstly they over promised at the election, the buck for that stops with the leader. Secondly, the perception is that Labour are being rolled over by FG. Eamon Gilmore has done himself no favours by being so determined to always show a united front with End Kenny. Distance and the odd falling out can destabilise governments but it is much better for your leadership.
The next question to ask is how serious are the rumours of a possible heave? They are pretty serious. I said at the start of the year that Eamon Gilmore was in a spot of bother and things have got worse since that. Labour are losing far too many personnel. The grassroots are feeling sidelined and angry. Now, we all know that in the normal course of events party grassroots don’t make the big decisions, however, once they start to get agitated they have enormous power as TDs feel the pressure and start to listen to people they are close to on the ground about the implications for their seat. All of those who have walked out of Labour parliamentary party are gone unless the leader changes. The only way to heal a rift is to move on from it and to do that, a leader must be changed. This is even true when a heave occurs. An FF leader never lost a heave vote. It’s what happed after that caused problems. Equally I have always maintained had Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar and others not agreed to return to the FG front bench and held their nerve, Enda Kenny would not be Taoiseach today.
Labour are starting to realise that the only way they can convince people they are going to change and get tougher is if they start with a new face and perhaps also remove some others at cabinet. Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin will be most certainly in the firing line.
Now, back up the horse, because all is not lost for Eamon Gilmore. He is rumoured to be talking to TDs. That’s a wise move, he needs to know what he’s dealing with then he needs a strategy. The first stage of this would be to try calm fears, and avoid an all out vote against him. Heaves are useless and get no where unless one of your front bench moves to support it. Gilmore can rest assured that he has strong support from his ‘old boys’ he has one weak link, Joan Burton. He needs to stop Joan making any attempts in the short term and just buy some time.
Joan has her own issues. She knows there are limits to what Labour can achieve. If she were to take over then she would certainly be expected to take a tougher line with FG and be far less chummy with them. That’s fine, she also knows that FG are desperate to remain in power and avoid an election so she could get a few big wins on that basis, but it would require brinkmanship and that will weaken the government. In reality such a strategy may start to halt the Labour decline, even gain them a few points but it wont be huge (a few points could be at least 10 seats saved though). However it’s unlikely the government would last full term, she would be looking at an election in 12 -18 months. Timing would be everything. She may well prefer if Gilmore could remain for another year and she could face such a strategy and timescale from next year. However, the opportunity may be presenting itself in the coming months. Timing is everything in such a strategy. This helps Gilmore as he may be able to keep Joan onside for the next while.
That’s valuable breathing space but then he needs to figure out how to use it. He needs to talk to Enda. The chummy façade needs to stop. FG need to realise that they are better off with Gilmore than whomever might replace him, therefore they need to find an issue that they can publicly disagree on, let it carry on, argue, and then allow Eamon a decisive victory that will shore up his support. It may hurt FG but its better than the alternative and if FG are really smart then they can surely find an issue that they know they can afford to lose on but matters to Labour.
That would allow Eamon Gilmore escape from his current predicament, but he’s on the ropes right now and there are a lot of ‘Ifs’ in that strategy. Those in Labour hoping for change need to be far more organised and need to know who they support. No matter how you look at it, Eamon Gilmore is now only Leader at the behest of Joan Burton, she can decide to loyally follow him until its too late (a bit like Micheál Martin did with Cowen) or she can ensure he is removed now and give Labour a fighting chance of showing a new image. The question is does she want the job? Such heaves require a certain steel, an ability to stand by what you do and accept the repercussions, they can even end your career. It needs enormous conviction. All sides will be tested in the months ahead
She said that the figures were “staggering” and “pretty incredible” – as she defended her plans to get employers to contribute more to the sick pay bill.
Ms Burton said that there were now 300,000 people in total receiving either illness benefit or disability allowance – which represents 16 per cent of the working age population. And she said that this number had increased by 100,000 people over the past decade when the country was at the most prosperous point in its history.
“How did Fianna Fail manage to put an extra 100,000 people on some sort of illness or disability payment? Because these are staggering figures,” she said.
She was speaking in the Dail as Fianna Fail brought a motion calling on her to halt her “job-destroying statutory sick pay scheme”. Currently, the state pays the cost of sick leave for workers who are absent for more than three days. But Ms Burton is now planning to get employers to cover the cost of up to month’s sick leave taken by their workers to save up to €89m from the annual €847m illness bill. She told the Dail that Ireland required employers to contribute far less to sick pay than in other European countries.
Fianna Fail enterprise spokesman Dara Calleary said his party was going to warn businesses about this new “Burton Burden”.
“This new cost burden will be seen as a tax on jobs and will have most effect on smaller, more vulnerable employers, operating in low-margin businesses,” he said.
Mr Calleary said that even a member of Ms Burton’s own party, Labour Senator John Whelan, had warned that her changes could push many small and medium enterprises “over the edge”.
Ms Burton had to withdraw her plan to change the sick pay system before last year’s Budget after strong opposition from Jobs Minister Richard Bruton. Several Fine Gael TDs have again warned that it will lead to increased costs for businesses and job losses.
Up to 300 people are expected to attend Ireland’s first public transgender rally outside the Dáil later today.
Activists want to raise awareness that being transgender is still classified as a mental disorder, and not an identity as they believe.
A spokesperson for one of the group’s involved, Trans Education and Advocacy, told TheJournal.ie that the the people attending the Rally for Recognition will be urging politicians to introduce inclusive and respectful Gender Recognition legislation that will not enshrine pathologisation of trans identities into Irish law.
A report by a government advisory committee passed to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton recently outlined recommendations for legislation to allow transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificate but only if they fulfil the medical criteria of a Gender Identity Disorder diagnosis or present evidence of reassignment surgery.
If pushed through, the move would set Ireland two steps back from international best practice on what has been described as a human rights issue.
“Currently many countries are fighting to remove that clause from their gender recognition legislation but Ireland is considering putting it in,” said Leslie Sherlock. “As it is, Ireland is one of the last countries in Europe to get gender recognition laws.
“The identity of trans people is really problematic and we see it as a human rights issue.
It is like being gay, which is not an illness or a mental disorder. That is why we are fighting for its depathologisation.
“We would argue that although it can still be a medical condition, it is not a mental illness.”
Argentina has been cited as a country to emulate when it comes to transgender issues.
In the South American nation, trans people can change the gender marker on their birth certificate by simply signing an affidavit.
“That is all that should be required,” remarked Sherlock. “There is enough stigma attached to the identity without having more enforced by the State’s unnecessary legal hoops.”
There should also be a separation of the legal and medical issues, according to TEA.
Organiser Cat McIlroy added,“Although the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities have experienced significant progress in Irish legal and social spheres, trans people have been left behind.
Our main goal is to provide a space for trans people and allies to be visible and engage in action that will empower them to speak out about the right of trans people to be recognised without pathologisation or further delay by the Irish State.
Today’s demonstration, due to begin at 2.30pm, has been organised to mark International Day of Action for Trans Depathologisation. Activists from across Europe will be in attendance at the event coincides with the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) annual conference which is taking place in Dublin.
The Coalition was forced into a U-turn after last December’s budget when its plan to stop the practice of paying disability allowance directly to 16- and 17-year-olds met strong opposition from the parents of severely disabled children and Opposition parties.
The contentious proposal to increase the minimum qualifying age for the allowance from 16 to 18, while providing a compensatory payment for the teenager’s parent or guardian, is back on the agenda as Budget 2013 approaches.
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said the EU–European Central Bank–International Monetary Fund troika has raised concerns about social welfare payments going straight to under-18s and said she was worried about young people losing the incentive to stay in education.
Ms Burton charged the expert advisory group on tax and social welfare with resolving such anomalies in the social welfare code. The group submitted its report on family income supports, including child benefit, to Ms Burton earlier this year. The Minister will receive the group’s work on State payments to the disabled shortly. The group will propose withholding disability allowance from 16 year olds who are new claimants while extending the domiciliary care allowance to the children’s carers. Currently, a domiciliary care allowance is paid to the parents of a child with a disability until the child is 16, after which the teenager goes on disability allowance in his or her own right.
The weekly maximum rate of disability allowance is €188. The domiciliary care allowance rate is €309.50 per month, although those in receipt of the payment may also qualify for carer’s benefit or carer’s allowance. A respite care grant of €1,700 a year can also be claimed and child benefit is not affected.