Dublin , Ireland

Did You Know You Can Vote? Cities and Democracy at Work

Dublin Office For Integration

February 11, 2009

A city framework for integration makes voting rights the key to immigrant empowerment

Zhara, a part-time hair dresser in her mid twenties recently completed a one day training course in voting education. “I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with my community!” she enthuses, filled with plans to get her friends to help her arrange for day and evening sessions at their local community centre and mosque. “Once people understand how important it is to vote, I think I’ll have lots of people of all ages interested in attending.”

Zhara’s training is part of a campaign launched on behalf of Dublin’s City Council’s Office for Integration. The goal is to raise awareness among the immigrant populations in Dublin of the importance of voting. The campaign also provides information of their legal right to vote in municipal elections before they become Irish citizens and the practical steps on how to actually cast a ballot on Election Day.

Currently, 15% of Dublin’s population is made up of immigrants that come from over 100 different countries. In some neighborhoods, immigrants account for more then 50% of the local population. Despite having the legal right to vote, voter participation among immigrant communities has historically been very low. In the 2007 election, only 8,400 of a potential 75,000 migrants registered to vote. The identified barriers include the very young profile age of these potential voters and a lack of targeted information on how to register and why they should vote. By training young community leaders like Zhara, the City of Dublin hopes to directly reach these communities through trusted community ambassadors. Following the completion of a one-day training course, these trained members will be equipped to a program of voter education sessions in local meeting points from across the city.

Making City Planning A Force For Change

This voting participation program is the result of a city level shift towards an increased commitment to the adoption of a planning and city framework that encourages greater integration.

“Towards Integration: A City Framework” was the first formal outline of Dublin’s migration and settlement partners. Signed in May 29, 2008 it is a multilateral formal commitment, the framework communicates a vision, principles and a strong message of commitment to city level integration state, local government, business and social partners.

Based on the 2006 census, the study behind the framework draws out the pattern of ethnic diversity in Dublin. In the north east inner city with 4 of 10 Electoral Division (ED’s) having an ethnic population of over 50% and a further 3 ED’S having 25% ethnic population. In the south east inner city, there are 2 ED’s that show a majority ethnic population. However there is also a distribution of ethnic population throughout the wider city with 40 ED’s showing an ethnic population of more than 25%.

Map of Dublin City Council’s Local Electoral Areas
Local Electoral Areas are subdivisions of county and city-level local authorities in Ireland used for electoral purposes. In Dublin City there are 13 Local Electoral Areas, each made up of a number of lower-level units known as Electoral Divisions. In Dublin City, each local electoral area elects a number of councillors (the number can be anywhere between 3 and 7) to Dublin City Council. The map shows the 13 Local Electoral Areas in Dublin City Council’s administrative area.

The framework is a starting point to encourage all partners to take ownership of their part in encouraging increased city level integration by reviewing and adapting their policies and priorities to better support the city’s diverse residents. The framework is based on evolving national policy, as well as European principles on integration and the experience of cities with a migration history.

Unique to the process was that new migrant and immigrant communities were consulted on what challenges and were responses required at the city level. It identifies key issues on information and services, barriers to progress, and sets out policy framework and template for actions.

In partnership with other agencies, Dublin City Council will be the key driver for integration and it has set out a 10 point Charter of Commitment which will establish the city administration as a focal point of integration in common with other European cities.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councilor Eibhlin Byrne has strongly endorsed this campaign, saying, “It is important that all their voices are heard so that together we can create a vibrant city for the 21st century.”

The Migrant Voter Project will be promoted with a focused advertising campaign in migrant communities in tandem with a general awareness campaign, stressing the importance of registering to vote by Nov 1st 2008 deadline. The Migrant Voters Project is stressing the message that all migrants are entitled to vote – regardless of status. In addition to the advertising and migrant voter registration campaign, the steering committee is also committed to establishing forums in 2009 for political engagement agenda by immigrant communities.

Due to increase the reach and success of the campaign, these efforts were also heavily promoted with posters throughout the city and in over 25 languages, including Polish, Lithuanian, Arabic, Chinese and Spanish.

While it is still too early to know the results of this campaign, it is a significant step towards the City of Dublin acting on their formal commitment to integration. Kazik Anhalt, from Poland, who represents the Federation of Polish Organisations, said it is important that from a social inclusion perspective, migrants are informed of their right to vote. “This collaborative approach between the city council and the migrant community is the best way to do it,” said Kazik.

A City Commitment to Integration

The Migrant Voter Project was launched on behalf of Dublin City Council’s Office for Integration as part of the “Declaration on Integration “a formally signed document involving key leaders of state and city organizations.” This Declaration is unique in the Irish context, establishing a pact on integration at city level and a strong message of commitment to the immigrant population of the city of Dublin.

The Declaration commits to promoting, and supporting the integration of the immigrant population within the political, social and economic life of the city. Also signing on to the multilateral Declaration were a variety of government ministries, as well as the Dublin and the Chamber of Commerce and the City Enterprise Board, among others. Each of these pledged to develop a strong integration focus in strategic and business planning and to collaborate in joint measures and actions which contribute to a more open, integrated city and with greater urban prosperity.

As part of their commitment, the City of Dublin will also be establishing a “Migrant Forum” as a channel of communication on migrant issues. The city is also providing support for the development of City Intercultural Centre to provide programs around culture, learning and exchange.

The Declaration took place at the launch of “Towards Integration A City Framework” a new policy statement on integration for Dublin City published by the Dublin City Development Board which is led by Dublin City Council. As Councilor Sean Kenny, Chairperson Dublin City Development Board acknowledged in reference to the strategic partnership structure for the city, “While management of immigration is a matter for government integration is a responsibility which falls on the city and its network of agencies.”

For Dublin residents like Zhara, these initiatives are already successful. “It’s not just words for a press conference or a treaty that everyone signs and forgets about – I’ve seen the posters in my neighborhood and took part in the voter training, its working on the streets.”

Making it Work for You:

  • Knowing how and where to vote is almost as important as knowing your rights. Make sure your city provides multi-lingual information and practical steps on how to actually cast a ballot on Election Day.
  • Use community ambassadors from diverse communities to build trust and influence participation rates. How can your organization recruit and train community members to increase participation in local politics?
  • Dublin's collaborative approach to social inclusion means that all city residents are part of the migrant voters campaign.
  • Use smart promotional materials targeted at new communities to highlight voter registration for local elections. In Dublin, posters were distributed to a number of cultural communities and were available in 25 languages, including Polish, Lithuanian, Arabic, Chinese and Spanish.

For this Good Idea contact:

Gerry Folan
Block 4, Floor 1
Civic Offices, Wood Quay
Dublin, Ireland,
Dublin 8
+1 353 1 222 2222

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