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Opinion: Last Saturday, I voted for the first time as an Irish citizen. It was a gift I will cherish

I have never had the freedom to vote before, writes Razan Ibrahim.

Razan Ibraheem A journalist in Dublin

WHEN I SAW the sign outside my polling station, I had goosebumps and cried. “I am an Irish citizen”, I thought.

It is the first time I have ever cast my vote in a general election. It is the first time I have witnessed such seismic political change in the form of a power transfer in a country. It is the first time I feel I am meaningful and I feel I exist. I will never take this vote for granted.

I come from a troubled and unstable Middle East that is thirsty for democracy. We cannot vote freely, we cannot express our political will, we cannot speak up and we cannot participate democratically in peaceful political change.

Therefore, taking part in this election was like a dream coming true for me. I arrived in Ireland in 2011 to do my masters in English Language Teaching at the University of Limerick. I fell in love with Ireland and I have been an Irish citizen for three years now.

I never thought I would stay in Ireland, that I would be honoured with Irish citizenship and that I would ever become one of its lucky voters.

Why voting matters

Voting is a vital role for any Irish citizen and is for me too as a new voter. I cannot take it for granted; I never will.

When the date of the new election was announced, I started to educate myself and learn more about the complicated but fascinating and fair voting system of proportional representation.

I read the parties’ manifestos and I got to know the candidates in my competitive constituency, Dublin Bay South. I wanted to vote with awareness and knowledge.

That was not enough, though. I trained myself on how to pronounce the names of the main parties in Irish (‘As Gaeilge’) and what they actually meant and more importantly I read about the historical background of each party.

I have to admit, it took me time to remember how to pronounce the name of Micheál Martin but I got there in the end.

Voting day, 8 February

The big day has arrived.

With a big smile and a feeling of pride, I put my voting paper in the ballot box knowing it is in safe hands and that it is counted, considered and is making a change even if it is only a small one.

It is clear that Irish voters craved a change and the general election results are a true reflection of the thrive for new policies, ideas and solutions.

I cannot get enough of the election coverage, it’s fascinating. The free and open discussion of ideas in Ireland is something I will never stop enjoying.  Yes, of course, Ireland is not perfect, no country is. But my upbringing was so vastly different.

Immigration – the election issue that wasn’t

One of the most positive outcomes of this election was the lack of fear around immigration. Day by day, Ireland proves that it is standing on the right side of history.

This is clearly embodied in the exit poll question: “Which one of these was most important to you in deciding how to vote?” The Ipsos MRBI poll showed that immigration was only an election issue for 1% of those surveyed.

So, I am heartened to see that Ireland’s attitude towards immigration and its warm welcome to new people and new cultures has not changed.

poll for use The exit poll showed that immigration only featured as an election issue for 1% of voters polled. Source: Ipsos MRBI/Irish Times

While some countries in Europe have been moving towards far-right and anti-immigration sentiment, Ireland is going its own way, towards inclusiveness and multiculturalism.

Although I hoped to see more voters thinking about climate change, I was so happy to see that the Irish people voted for what mattered and addressed real problems and issues which have been affecting the country.

Immigration is not one of them. Yes, there are issues with Direct Provision and I accept that there have been tensions in the last year, but it is heartening that the issue has not impacted most.

Even the anti-immigration and far-right candidates made no impact and were totally rejected by Irish voters. It is the Irish election tradition at its best and it is a clear message that Irish people are working together to make this a better country.

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Éire, once again, you never fail to impress me.

You are as compassionate as ever and exactly as I have always expected. You have always opened up your arms for new dreamers.

Thanks to the long-established tradition of Irish warmth and openness, many of us have been able to rebuild our lives here and we feel we exist and belong.

If only Ireland was geographically as big and warm as its heart.

Razan Ibraheem is a journalist and activist living in Dublin. 


About the author:

Razan Ibraheem  / A journalist in Dublin

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