Count Us In!
Immigrant Council of Ireland
A campaign to remind political parties that Irish citizens are diverse and ready to vote and be counted.
Paula was born in the Philippines and grew up in the United Kingdom. She worked in the financial industry and is now semi-retired. She now lives with her Irish partner in an affluent area of Dublin. She has a British passport and is eligible to vote in Ireland.
During the 2011 general elections while she was doing some cleaning in her house, a canvasser of a major political party knocked on her door. When she answered, the canvasser mistook her for a domestic worker as she fitted the profile of the Filipino domestic workers working in the suburb of Dublin where she lives. As if this were not enough, the canvasser assumed that she did not have a word of English and spoke slowly to her, asking: “Do … you … understand … English? … When …will … the … homeowners … be … back?”
Around the same time, staff at the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) were hearing similar stories. Canvassers bypassing people who did not sound or look typically Irish. People distributing leaflets who ignored a foreign accent or a non-Irish face. ICI staff realized these behaviours were based on a false assumption that migrants do not vote. This was an issue of concern to the ICI’s stakeholders especially those who became Irish through the naturalisation process. After internal discussions on the issue and after dealing with a few calls from other naturalised citizens, the ICI decided to take the initiative in highlighting this experience.
Stand Up and Be Counted
On February 17th, 2011, the Immigrant Council of Ireland launched the Count Us In campaign. The aims of the campaign were: (1) to raise awareness among naturalised citizens of their right to vote in the 2011 General Election; (2) to remind political parties and candidates of the need to engage with naturalised citizens and with the issues pertaining to immigration and integration; and (3) to remind politicians and canvassers that the electorate in Ireland was diverse.
A photocall was staged in front of Leinster House (the parliament building) in Dublin with naturalised citizens and established Irish nationals supporting the campaign. The ICI secured a small grant that was used in the production of a Youtube clip, securing the service of a freelance photo journalist and of a public relations consultancy.
After hearing about the campaign in the news, Paula contacted the ICI and agreed to participate on a live radio interview about the Count Us In campaign. Sharing her experience with a wider audience and meeting with people who had experienced the same thing helped her to put it behind her. The fact that the campaign went viral after catching bloggers’ attention and was covered in the mainstream media helped raise awareness about Paula and other voters who did not ‘look or sound typically Irish’.
Sharing ideas behind the Count Us In campaign
The first channel through which the campaign was shared with the wider audience was through a press notice and this was followed by a press release. Following the photocall, the campaign received wide coverage. This included:
- TV3 News at 5.30pm: News package with Dianne Connor
- IrishTimes.com: Call for election focus on immigrants
- Broadsheet.ie: ‘They’re voting for the guy who does the funny accents of foreigners’
- Newstalk.ie: ‘Criticism of lack of migrant election candidates’ podcast interview with Fidèle Mutwarasibo, Integration Manager, Immigrant Council of Ireland
- Metro Eireann: Citizenship delays deny immigrants of right to vote.
Another aspect of the work on the campaign was the production of a YouTube video where a number of naturalised citizens shared their views and experiences. This was important in documenting the campaign and sharing with others who might be interested in running a similar campaign.
The feedback on the campaign was positive as highlighted by Paula’s case study. Although it is difficult to ascertain the causal effect, a naturalised citizen of US American descent was appointed to the Seanad (Irish Senate) by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Enda Kenny in May, 2011 after the ICI had called the incoming Taoiseach to appoint a naturalised citizen to the Seanad in February!
The fact that the story of the campaign was picked up by the media highlights the fact that the campaign was timely and relevant. The coverage was also positive and in many ways the campaign marked the beginning of a debate on Irishness in 21st century Ireland.
This Good Idea was submitted to Cities of Migration by Fidèle Mutwarasibo, Integration Manager, Immigrant Council of Ireland.
Making it Work for You:
- Getting the timing right.
- Responding to a perceived need.
- Having people affected by the issue on board.
- Having a good communications strategy.
- Planning support mechanisms for people who have been affected by the issue and who contact the promoter of the initiative/campaign after the launch.
- Having a strategy to deal with dissenters as there will always be people who disagree with an initiative one deems sound and reasonable.
- Having a de-briefing session with all the stakeholders in the initiative/campaign after the launch to share the learning.