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)