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There are more than 100 local election candidates from migrant backgrounds. Meet seven of them

The number was just 56 in 2019. More than half the candidates from a migrant background are women

It’s an overcast afternoon in the Ballymun-Finglas local electoral area and Arnold Guo has taken the day off work to begin knocking on doors at the earlier time of 2pm.

The Fine Gael candidate is ramping up his canvassing, pacing the streets of the sprawling north Dublin ward where his party failed to get a candidate elected in 2019′s local elections.

But Guo is optimistic about his chances and his GP is happy with his decision to run.

“My blood pressure is down and my diabetes is gone from all the walking,” he says with a smile.


A senior risk analyst who moved to Ireland from China in 1996, Guo says his would-be constituents “know how to have a healthy debate” – an assessment generally borne out by the hour Guo spends with The Irish Times in Glasnevin.

All homeowners are courteous aside from one woman, who closes the door in his face, saying: “No disrespect to you personally but I wouldn’t vote for Fine Gael if they were the last party on earth.”

Guo did experience “aggressive behaviour” earlier this month when a man shook his ladder while shouting racial abuse as he was hanging posters.

“He said ‘he’s not Irish’ and was kicking the ladder, I could feel it shaking underneath me. I was hanging on to that lamp-post for my life, that was a scary moment.”

Guo’s family has also been targeted. “Online is very bad, I get a lot of abuse. I feel disgusted when they put my family pictures on a website and start attacking me. I don’t want my family to be a part of this.

“But I have a lot of people behind me, supporting me, who believe in me and I’m much stronger now. I won’t back out.”

Guo is one of the more than 100 candidates from a migrant background running in the local elections, according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland. The total is up from 56 in 2019.

More than half of candidates with a migrant background are women. One of these is Lola Gonzalez, who has lived in Ireland for nearly a decade and is running for the Social Democrats in Carrick-on-Shannon.

Originally from Panama, Gonzalez lived in the US before moving to Ireland with her Irish-American husband in 2015. She decided to run in the local elections after shadowing a Fianna Fáil councillor as part of an Immigrant Council internship scheme.

“I saw that we needed more diversity in the chambers, more women’s voices and more voices from the migrant community,” she says.

Gonzalez says there is a stark difference between the issues on the doors today in comparison to the conversations she had when she started canvassing a year ago. “Before it was mostly about housing, local transport or the playground for kids, but in the last three weeks there’s more about immigration. I was surprised, I’d never seen that before.”

Thankfully she has had no “unpleasant” experiences on doorsteps, but she has been confronted with anti-immigration sentiments. “They see I’m a migrant and I say we’re doing as much as we can to help refugees at a local level. But I also don’t engage too much because I feel it could go a negative way.”

Gonzalez never campaigns alone as she is “aware someone could become aggressive or physical”.

“It’s a shame that I have to think about that. We need to fix things for women and migrants who stand for election – it’s not fair we have to have that extra worry on our minds.”

Thoiba Ahmed, an independent candidate running in Letterkenny for the second time, says local people are “taking me more seriously this time”. The first hijab-wearing woman to run in the local elections, Ahmed says she was approached by most political parties after securing 525 first preference votes in 2019.

“I had brought them suggestions before the election and they did not encourage me to join. People I meet now are delighted I’m an independent, they say it makes it easier to vote for me.”

Ahmed introduces herself as a “Sudanese-Irish proud Donegal woman” who is also Muslim and speaks Arabic. “I always talk about my identity, I can resonate with many people.”

People are “95 per cent positive” on the doorsteps, but Ahmed has noticed a hardening stance on immigration which emerges through people’s use of language.

“Someone might suddenly start talking about the foreigners. They don’t mean it badly, it’s just an unconscious bias.” However, she adds, most people in Letterkenny just want to speak about “housing and mica”.

The people of Clondalkin are also focused on housing, says People Before Profit candidate Darragh Adelaide.

“There is so much anger towards the establishment. People in Clondalkin have been on housing lists for more than a decade and are trying to raise kids in a box room,” he says. “We’re one of the richest countries on earth and back in the 60s, when we had no money, we were able to build lots of social housing.”

A fluent Irish speaker born and bred in Dublin, Adelaide has previously been harassed by far-right activists because of the colour of his skin but has not experienced racism while canvassing.

“I don’t want to diminish what other people have experienced but I’ve lived my whole life in Clondalkin,” he says. “I was born here and have a local accent. But in general, I think people are disgusted by vocal racists claiming to speak on the behalf of the majority. What’s become very apparent to me, having knocked on doors, is they’re a tiny minority.”

Joyce Mathias, Green Party candidate for Galway City East, was surprised to discover “90 per cent of responses on the doors are positive, despite what’s on social media”.

“When you see trolling of migrants you assume it’s happening on the doors but it’s been completely different for me.”

Mathias, who has lived in Galway for more than two decades and whose campaign has a focus on easing traffic congestion, local transport and road safety, says a small proportion of people are “angry with the party but don’t transfer that aggression to me”.

A tiny number shut their doors in her face, she adds. “Some even tried to shoo me away like an animal in a very disrespectful or aggressive way. But I never take it personally.

“Some people find me amusing, maybe because of my hair. But I never feel nervous and I’ve done most of my canvassing alone. I don’t get scared, I just used my own discretion.”

Sinn Féin’s candidate in Ballyfermot, Mamy Nzema Nkoy, moved to Ireland from the Democratic Republic of Congo 16 years ago. She is focusing on housing, investment in local services and tackling antisocial behaviour in her campaign, but acknowledges that immigration is coming up on the doorsteps.

Nkoy says she decided to run for Sinn Féin because the party’s approach to immigration “emphasises compassion, integration and respect for human rights”. Echoing her party’s policy commitments, Nkoy says Ireland must have “control over its borders” and that the Government’s approach to immigration is “shambolic”. However, she says immigration should be discussed with “empathy and facts rather than fear and misinformation”.

“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and we must strive to create a society where everyone feels welcomed and valued regardless of their background.”

Nekesa Nancy Khisa, Labour candidate in the Fingal County Council electoral area of Ongar, admits canvassing has been “sweet and sour”.

A Kenyan who moved to Ireland two years ago, Khisa decided to run after interning with the Labour Party as part of her master’s degree programme. Some of Khisa’s posters were recently ripped down and set on fire. However, she says the reaction from Ongar residents has encouraged her to keep going.

“They took the time to apologise and reassure me that this is not what Ireland stands for. They let me know it was a disgrace. This tells me the community is very welcoming and not as intolerant as the people who burned the posters want us to believe,” she says.

Khisa has “no regrets” about participating in the local elections and says the experience did not make here “afraid” or reconsider canvassing.

“I want to be in a community that tells me we don’t care where you come from. This community has welcomed me and made me feel like one of their own.”

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