From top: A march in Dublin to promote the recognition of Travellers as a minority ethnic group, September, 2009; Dan Boyle
I attended an interesting meeting last Saturday. Organised by the Cork Migrant Centre along with the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Cork City Council, it was an event to encourage migrant participation in political life in Ireland.
We have had about twenty five years of inwards migration into the country. While it is difficult to disentangle clear statistics given our own history of migration out of, and back into the auld sod, it seems that one in every eight people come from non traditional ethnic backgrounds.
Quarter of a century on there is little sign that our new communities are being reflected in our political systems.
There has been the occasional interloper, viewed as curious oddities, stop starters in developing a political system that remains far from reflective.
The Spring Tide election in 1992 saw the surprising election of Dr. Moosajee Bhamjee in Clare. A South African of an Indian ethnic background.
He achieved high visibility during his term as a TD, but chose not to seek re-election, perhaps realising earlier than most that spring tides go out as well as come in.
Local government has had a far poorer return from new Irish communities. In 2004 two Nigerians were elected as independents to town councils in Portlaoise and in Ennis.
The first of these was Rotimi Adebari who became Mayor of the Town Council in 2007. He was elected for a second term as councillor in 2009, before Portlaoise Town Council, along with town councils throughout the country, was stupidly abolished.
In the 2009 elections, The Greens ran Tendai Madondo from Zimbabwe in Tallaght South. She won over six hundred votes but did not win a seat. Another Green candidate, Kristina Jankaitiene from Lithuania, was elected to Carrickmacross Town Council.
In 2014 only two candidates from New Irish backgrounds were elected as city/county councillors.
On Fingal County Council a Sinn Féin candidate, Edmond Lukusa, a Nigerian, was elected. On the new Limerick City/County Council Labour candidate, Elena Secas from Moldova, was elected.
Perhaps part of the answer for this low take up can be found in the parallel experience of the Traveller Community in Ireland.
Recently deceased Traveller activist, Nan Joyce, became the first member of her community to stand for public office when she contested the 1982 general election.
Ellen Mongan was the first Irish Traveller to achieve elected office when she was elected to Tuam Town Council in 1994. It was this same town council that made Martin Ward its Mayor in 2003.
15 years later there has been no apparent shift in the tectonic plates for either Irish Travellers or members of New Irish communities.
Coming elections are unlikely to see significant changes in the representation of Travellers or those from New Irish communities in our local government system. It would be nice if some progress could be made.
We need to identify and remove whatever obstacles exist to improve the unacceptable under-representation that exists in our systems of governance.
Some of these obstacles exist within the communities themselves. There can be a lack of awareness of the need of or the ability to, register to vote. There is an even greater reticence to subsequently put themselves forward as candidates.
This is the first and most important obstacle that needs to be overcome. The more Irish Travellers and more New Irish community members who can be encouraged to put their name on ballot papers, the more the law of averages can be used to ensure their election in greater numbers.
And don’t start me on the women.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle