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Opinion: 'Irish politics is starting to feel more inclusive, more diverse'

Uruemu Adejinmi, who is of African descent, had hoped to run in the forthcoming Seanad by-election. She shares her thoughts on Irish politics.

Uruemu Adejinmi

Uruemu Adejinmi recently missed a chance to become the Fianna Fáil candidate in a forthcoming Seanad by-election. Had she succeeded, she would have been the first person of African descent elected to the Oireachtas. A councillor in Longford, Uruemu says she aims to tackle the ‘pandemic of racism’ here:

IN THE WORDS of Tipp O’Neill, all politics is local. It has always been of interest to me and my involvement in the community for many years made for an easy transition into politics.

In 2016, in response to an invitation by a member who is now a member of Dáil Éireann, I joined the Fianna Fáil Party.

I became actively involved in the party at local level, attending CDC and Cumann meetings, fundraisers and conventions. I was elected as secretary of the Fianna Fáil Women’s Network at our National Convention in Kildare in 2019.

Representation

I have been a Councillor on Longford County Council for a year now and I have had the opportunity to work alongside some very committed people and gained a true understanding of how local politics works in Ireland. I was then nominated and confirmed to run in the 2019 local elections as a Fianna Fáil candidate.

I found door-to-door canvassing a daunting prospect at first. I soon overcame the discomfort upon the realisation that voters expected candidates and their teams to knock on doors and speak to them.

Canvassing also helped to increase my profile within the community. Campaigning for me was a positive exercise and in my conversations with residents in Longford, I noted their key issues and concerns. Now, I refer to my notes from the campaign trail and highlight issues that need to be addressed.

I have witnessed a significant difference in politics in Longford. It feels more inclusive, more diverse, and more acceptable for all.

I am not saying that is all down to me, but it must help to have someone from a minority group in politics, to speak for those who feel underrepresented.

I have been a strong advocate on local issues such as housing and education, and on broader societal issues such as climate change and diversity and inclusion. I work continually with community leaders to break down barriers to integration and celebrate our cultural diversity.

Ireland and racism

If all humans are born equal, it is hard to explain the existence of racism. Racism was invented and every human invention is intended to fulfil a need that has been identified. So, who benefits from racism?

Our attitudes are shaped at a young age. What we hear from our family members and our friends can remain with us and we unconsciously adopt these views which can sometimes be racist.

A racist person feels another is inferior due to their race. This manifests in their actions and attitudes. We might consider the number of black people that are stopped and searched, for instance, because it is perceived that black people are inherently more likely to commit crime even though the vast majority of blacks searched are innocent.

Racist abuse as well as the handling by An Garda Síochána of reports of racism is a cause of much frustration among minority groups and there is a low level of confidence in reporting incidents of racism.

The message sent down by the courts in relation to racist abuse must be strong and unequivocal, but there is a sense that this crime is not taken seriously enough by the criminal justice system. Legislation and sentencing policy is needed to prevent people with extreme views from discriminating against others directly.

Another difficult subject for minority groups to grapple with is the Direct Provision system. It negatively impacts minority groups and there have been calls for DP to be abolished.

The Program for Government has committed to this and many in minority communities have been eagerly awaiting the promised reform. We will be watching for those changes in the coming weeks and months.

The Direct Provision system in its current format is not fit for purpose and negatively impacts on minority groups also.

I am delighted to see included in the White Paper recently published, that Government plans to end Direct Provision and replace it with a new International Protection Accommodation Policy that will have the protection and promotion of human rights at its core.

It is important that we immediately begin to implement the policy and provide supports that will help applicants live independently and foster integration between applicants and their host communities.

We are living in uncertain times and life as we know it is changing. It is important now more than ever for everyone to be part of the change process for a more inclusive society.

My political activism allows me to create the world I want to see: a world where my children can grow and excel in any field of endeavour, alongside their peers regardless of ethnic background.

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Uruemu Adejinmi is a Fianna Fáil Councillor in County Longford and Leas Cathaoirleach of Longford Municipal District. Born in Nigeria, she arrived in Ireland in 2003.

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