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Honore Kamegni, Cork City's first black counsellor. Alamy Stock Photo
2024 local elections

'It's a complex issue': Two of Ireland's migrant-background councillors talk about getting elected

Cork and Galway City Councils both elected their first black representatives.

THE 2024 LOCAL elections returned the biggest number of councillors from a migrant background – either migrants themselves or people who are from a migrant background.

Two of those elected – Honore Kamegni for Cork City South East, and Helen Ogbu for Galway City East – also made history by being the first black people elected to their respective councils.

Kamegni, originally from Cameroon, said that while his campaign wasn’t easy, he was grateful to everyone that supported him across his Local Electoral Area (LEA).

“I had to work hard, all day every day. The campaign took a total of 14 months, we started in April 2023, and I had the goal of knocking on every goal in my constituency, over 15,000 homes,” he told The Journal.

“But the reaction that I got on the doors was incredibly supportive.”

Kamegni joined the Green Party in 2023, following a meeting with Cork branch chair Eoin Murphy.

“I saw a video of a Cork City Council meeting and noticed there were no black councillors, which I felt wasn’t representative of how multicultural Cork is. So I decided that I wanted to try and make a council that looks like Cork,” he said.

Kamegni also hoped that his election would be able to serve as an example for others, migrant and non-migrant alike.

“Keep working hard, keep moving forward, and you can achieve what you set out to do,” he said.

For Helen Ogbu, newly elected to Galway City council, the feeling was similar.

Originally from Nigeria, Ogbu has been active as a community worker in Galway and Ireland more broadly for over ten years.

She says that while there may be some pressure on her in her position, she tries to focus on the positive.

“Migration is a complex issue, but the most important thing to do is not let that negativity hold us back. We need to be educating people on migration, on the benefits that migration brings, and sensitising people to the issue,” she said.

“Maybe I do feel some pressure being the first black councillor, but the reception I’ve gotten from people has been exceptionally positive. I’ve been given a mandate by the people of East Galway to represent them and I will do so.”

Attitudes towards migration are something both candidates had to contend with, but both say that the face-to-face response that they’ve gotten with people in their locality has been overwhelmingly positive.

Kamegni said that while he did receive a lot of abuse online, it was easy to ignore, because when he spoke to people going door-to-door they were supportive.

“The comments online I just ignored. Because those people could have been anywhere, in China, the US, wherever. But the people on the doors are what matter and they were very encouraging.”

As a community worker, Ogbu said the transition to councillor made sense for her.

“Every councillor should have a background in community development work, because being a councillor is being an advocate for people,” she said.

“Being a community worker, you can be restricted by a lack of resources and reach, but as a councillor you have access to so much more and can do a lot more for people.”

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