The Observer | International | Adams sings for votes as parties woo immigrants

Adams sings for votes as parties woo immigrants

Nicola Byrne
Sunday March 28, 2004
The Observer

As Nigerian members of the Church of the Redemptionist sang and clapped in a small parish hall in west Dublin last Wednesday, a beaming Gerry Adams did his best to keep up.
This was unfamiliar vote-catching territory for the Sinn Fein leader, but with upwards of 40,000 immigrants entitled to vote in next June's local elections it's unlikely to remain so.

Sinn Fein is one of a handful of parties aggressively targeting the latest additions to the Republic's electorate. While their prospective councillors engage with newly arrived immigrants about social issues ranging from housing to health matters, some of their Fianna Fail counterparts are distributing information leaflets written in Mandarin and African languages.

At Mosney in Co. Meath, one of the Republic's largest residential centres for refugees, a local Fianna Fail councillor has established a branch with an eye on almost 700 prospective votes.

In a multi-cultural newspaper, the party has taken out full-page advertisements inviting members of the new immigrant communities to join them.

Similarly, the Progressive Democrats moved quickly last year to overturn a proviso in its charter which stated that only EU citizens could become party members. The party is now attracting considerable support from the Asian communities of Dublin, a spokesperson claimed last week.

The courting of the immigrant vote by politicians is intense compared with just six months ago, when a report commissioned by an African welfare agency found that none of the main parties had implemented any measures to entice non-nationals into politics.

The about-turn is not surprising, according to Peter O'Mahoney, Chairperson of the Irish Refugee Council. He said: 'The attitude of some of the bigger parties has changed, because in some constituencies at least they realise that immigrants could hold the balance of power, and no politician is going to turn down votes, no matter where they come from.

'It's ironic, though, that some of these parties have at best been indifferent to problems of the immigrant communities in the past.'

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