Integration must take priority ahead of local authority elections, says new report
2018-08-01 14:46:34 -
By Chinedu Onyejelem

The Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform has called on people from migrant backgrounds to register to vote and even run for office in next year’s local authority elections.

In his foreword to Keeping it Local, a new report on developing migrant integration strategies, Minister John Paul Phelan also noted that the National Migrant Integration Strategy urges local authorities to bring their own methods up to date in order to make their communities welcoming to all.

The report from the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) found that only three local authorities have current local integration strategies, and that a lack of urgency for such projects exists in almost all regions.

“The practical recommendations in this document will be particularly helpful and I strongly encourage local authorities to adopt them as part of a living action plan to help communities become friendlier, more welcoming and ultimately more inclusive places for migrants living in Ireland,” said Minister Phelan.

“Engagement with our migrant communities is extremely important in the context of local politics. Regardless of nationality, anyone who is 18 or over and is ordinarily resident in a local electoral area can vote in local elections. I strongly encourage all migrant communities to participate fully by ensuring they are registered to vote and to avail of their right and opportunity to vote.

“I would also strongly encourage members of migrant communities to consider putting themselves forward for election to local authorities.”

Meanwhile, the ICI has warned that lack of preparation for diversity in participation at a local level is a yardstick for creating isolated communities and possible tensions. 

In a statement to mark the launch of the report, ICI chief executive Brian Killoran said: “Despite approximately one in eight people in Ireland coming from a migrant background, we have yet to see local and national Government take the necessary steps to prioritise integration activities. Resourcing pro-active, positive measures will strengthen communities and build cohesion in Irish society.

“People live their lives in their communities – it’s where they live, work, go to school, meet up and join groups. It makes sense therefore for integration plans to start here. However, our new report has found only three local authorities around the country have an in-date integration strategy. This is despite the fact it’s one of the key recommendations in the Government’s integration policy document.”

One of the activities highlighted by the report as having a profound effect in promoting cross-cultural understanding and co-operation is a community festival in Kilkenny. 

“We have been celebrating in Kilkenny since 2003, many of us have been living here for 12-15 years and we are proud to work here and bring up our families in the town,” said Syed Mustafizur Rahman, spokesperson for the Bengali Festival in Kilkenny town.

“The Bengali Festival started in the restaurants and community halls, then as our community got bigger, the events got bigger and better. Now the Bangladeshi community from all over Ireland comes every year to Kilkenny to celebrate together.

“Every year we get 100 or more Irish friends joining us at the event, but last year was huge, we welcomed 200-250 Irish friends as well as members of the African, Indian and western European communities, creating a crowd of 1,300-1,400. This was great for businesses in the town. 

“Being able to spread the word through local media was really important in helping the event grow,” Rahman added.
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