Female, pale and stale: Katherine Zappone, 65, an American-born, Irish politician. Born in Washington State, she became an Irish citizen in 1995. Along with her late wife Ann Louise Gilligan, she played an integral role in achieving same-sex marriage in Ireland.
A piece by Peter O’Dwyer in today’s Times:
Politicians in Ireland have been “male, pale and stale” for too long, according to Katherine Zappone.
The children’s minister said the lack of diversity in politics was concerning. “As the only independent woman sitting at the cabinet table, and as a migrant, I am keenly aware that Irish politics does not reflect the communities which it is supposed to serve,” she said.
“For too long political voices have been largely male, pale and stale, drawn from two establishment parties. This is true not only of national politics but also at the grassroots, with just 0.3 per cent of our locally elected leaders from a migrant background.”
Irish or British citizenship is required to stand or vote in general elections, but all residents in Ireland, regardless of nationality, may stand and vote in local elections. Despite the relatively generous opportunities for migrants to participate in politics, only three of the country’s 949 city and county councillors are non-nationals. Of the 166 members of the Dáil, Ms Zappone is the only naturalised Irish citizen.
Ms Zappone, who is originally from Seattle, said the fact that Ireland had “very inclusive” rules on who could stand in local elections made the lack of diversity “even more concerning”.
She made the comments in the foreword to a report from the Immigrant Council of Ireland.
The publication, due to be released this morning, detailed the findings of a councillor-migrant internship, facilitated by the council, in which five migrants worked as interns alongside councillors in five local authorities for four months.
The councillors were: Anne Campbell of Louth county council; Joe Flaherty of Longford county council; Joe Behan of Wicklow county council; Duncan Smith of Fingal county council; and Mick Nugent of Cork county council. They were matched, respectively, with Adam Muchegwa, from Zimbabwe; Uruemu Adejinmi, from Nigeria; Anne Waithira, from Kenya; Yulia Ghumman, from Ukraine; and Fahmeda Naheed, from Pakistan.
The interns said that the programme was a huge learning opportunity and planned to get more involved in local politics, while the councillors said it had “opened their eyes to the perspective of migrants and the challenges they face”, the report said.
Brian Killoran, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said: “Migrant representation in local politics is woefully low — just 31 candidates from a migrant background ran in 2014.
“Political parties must work harder to open up opportunities for migrants to get involved. As this councillor-migrant internship scheme has shown, the benefits are win-win for all involved — and especially the health of Irish politics.”
Ms Zappone said that it was a “truly valuable scheme” which broadened the perspective of politicians and helped build their awareness of what life as a migrant was like in Ireland.
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