Growing racism keeps immigrants out of Irish politics
A NUMBER of high-profile immigrant candidates who contested the last local elections will not be putting their names forward in 2014, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
The former candidates cite lack of party support, a rise in racism and family as reasons why they are unwilling to stand in next year's local elections.
The Sunday Independent has also learned that a number of them believe they would have been elected as councillors in 2009 if their parties had given them full support.
Some of the former candidates cited personal reasons for opting out of the race, while others still mentioned a growing level of racism and xenophobia as discouraging them from running.
Those whose names will be missing from the ballot in next year's local elections include highly respected immigrants such as businessman Adeola Ogunsina, Fine Gael's current equality officer for the Dublin West constituency; Tallaght-based Green Party candidate Tendai Madondo; and independents Patrick Maphoso (Dublin Central) and Rashid Butt (Mullingar Town Council).
Up until last month, Fine Gael was trying to persuade Mr Ogunsina to run in the Castleknock or Mulhuddart wards, but he bluntly refused.
A source told multicultural newspaper Metro Eireann: "It is believed that he wants the Government and his Fine Gael party to educate new voters on active citizenship and political participation to make it easier for the new Irish candidates."
Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday from Italy, Mr Ogunsina confirmed he declined the party's offer.
"Fine Gael head office contacted me through a local councillor in the area (Castleknock). When I said I was not going to run, I had an informal meeting with the local TD (Minister Leo Varadkar) who told me the advantages of running in the area, in terms of political representation and the possibility of winning because of my previous performance as a candidate. I had 1,368 votes when I contested in 2009. And he said because the number of councillors (for the area) has increased, I have a better chance of winning."
But Mr Ogunsina believes that he may not win the election if he goes ahead because of the current public sentiment against immigrants.
And he said Fine Gael and all of the other political parties should do more to promote the positive contribution of immigrants to Irish society so as to make them acceptable candidates at elections.
He said there is a difference between getting a political party's support and that of local party activists.
"If I decide to run, local party activists would decide if they want to support me. If Fine Gael assures me that local party activists will give me equal support and assistance without trying to put (indigenous) Irish candidates first, then I will reconsider my position," he said.
"Many people who campaigned for me last time (2009 local election) were not necessarily members of Fine Gael. I had two strong Fine Gael activists but did not get as many party activists as I would have loved. Many party activists who were scheduled to campaign for me cancelled due to one reason or another."
Another former candidate, Tendai Madondo of the Green Party, said she wants "to work more broadly than focusing on the local issues".
Following the last election, Ms Madondo has been advising other local election hopefuls from all backgrounds, as well as future political prospects in her home country Zimbabwe.
In Mullingar, Rashid Butt said he is not standing due to personal reasons, compounded by the difficulties he sees in getting immigrants to campaign in a hostile environment caused by racism and xenophobia.
Dublin-based Patrick Maphoso – who was subjected to racial abuse during his 2009 campaign by a man since jailed for the crime – is also not contesting, saying that he doesn't believe Irish people "are ready for change".
"According to my assessment, it will take 10 to 15 years for immigrants to get proper representation in this country unless there's a political will," he said, referring to the Government's determination to proactively include immigrants via the introduction of a quota system.
Mr Maphoso cited the ongoing recession, the rising number of racist incidents and a high level of resentment against immigrants as contributing to his decision.
Meanwhile, a number of other candidates – including former Portlaoise mayor Rotimi Adebari, said they were still undecided about running and would make their decisions public soon.