Migrants sample Irish politics in unique intern scheme
“We pray for a heart which will embrace immigrants” (Pope Francis, Lampedusa, Italy, July 8th 2013)
A unique scheme to give migrants a better understanding of the Irish political system has received positive responses from the migrants and new Irish citizens who took part and their political mentors in the Dáil and Seanad.
The first report of the Opening Power to Diversity Scheme was launched today by the organisation that initiated and manages the scheme, Crosscare, the social care agency of the Archdiocese of Dublin. In the project, 16 migrants and new Irish citizens, worked as interns with TD’s and Senators for six months. The aim of the project is to generate greater interest in and understanding of the political system among migrant communities.
The response to the scheme to date has been overwhelmingly positive, from both parliamentarians and interns. People originally from Nigeria, China, Brazil, Zambia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Ghana and Eritrea have participated in the scheme working with with Dail Deputies and Senators from every political party and some Independents.
In the report, Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed the measure saying, “If democracy is to be meaningful, we need as much engagement as possible by people with politics. We need as many people as possible, from all walks of life influencing the decision making process”.
The 2011 census recorded that 12% of the population of Ireland were not Irish citizens – in 2002 that figure was 5.8% — confirming that in just a decade, the Ireland’s non-Irish population has almost doubled. This profound change has seen public institutions often struggling to catch up with the needs of an increasingly multi cultural population. Participation of migrant communities in politics remains limited.
In January of 2012, after almost a year of preparation and research, Crosscare’s Migrant Project launched the Opening Power to Diversity Scheme. It has three core aims – to help provide individual migrants with insight and experience of the Irish political system; to help generate a greater understanding among migrant communities of how the political system works and to promote an awareness of diversity among politicians, the political establishment and society at large.
Joe O’Brien Policy Officer with Crosscare said, it was vital for all of us that our parliament is representative of our ethnically diverse society. “We also want to get Irish people thinking about the reality that over time more and more of our public representatives will be and should be of migrant background. But most immediately this scheme is about taking the mystique out of politics and offering migrants in particular a feeling of ownership of what is their political system,” he added.
The report chronicles responses from some of the interns who took part.
- Erica Birch-Abban originally from Ghana: this experience has definitely given me more confidence, skills and insight that I could utilise in serving this nation. Our nation Ireland
- Amy Zhang originally from China: Every handshake, every smile and nod, every word I received filled me with sentiments of encouragement, motivation and pride for both myself and for the Chinese community at large here in Ireland
- Alfred M’Sichili originally from Zambia: I discovered that new communities will need to target increased participation at local council level as well as in the respective parties
- Adelita Monteiro originally from Brazil: It did make me consider becoming a politician, and I never thought about this before.
Crosscare is the social care agency of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.
The Opening Power to Diversity scheme is co-financed by the European Commission under the European Integration Fund and is supported by the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration in the Department of Justice and Equality, and Pobal.