We saw the signs in the presidential election. The punching down of a billionaire against a scapegoated indigenous minority has sparked a furious debate around racism on our little island.
Dog-whistle politics has crept back in with some of our current city councillors making sweeping statements about communities connected by ethnicity or social class. This rhetoric is harmful and a distraction. It incites hatred against the target minority and deflects attention away from the real cause of our social and economic woes. We must take a stand in advance of Election 2019.
The last census revealed our city to be the most multicultural in the country - 20 per cent of our residents are non-Irish. It is something we embrace and something we hope is celebrated through our European Capital of Culture status. I am a candidate in the upcoming Local Elections. My ethnicity is mixed - my father is from Galway, my mother is from Pakistan. Our current sitting council, and even the majority of declared candidates, do not accurately represent the diverse city Galway has become.
The lack of any coherent network to address community concerns around diversity and different cultures prompted me to found the Galway Anti Racism Network in 2016. We have grown to become the most active community group in the city - entirely volunteer-run and with no funding. A necessary community service for a city with a significant Traveller, asylum seeker, migrant worker, and non-white Irish population.
I am asking those running for election in Galway city to sign up to two anti-racism election pledges that call on candidates to keep the elections free from the kind of toxic discourse that misinforms voters and debases political debate. I have signed up to both the Anti-Racism Election Protocol from the European Network Against Racism Ireland and the Anti-Racism Election Pledge from United Against Racism – both are national anti-racism organisations based in Dublin.
I am working with other community groups to produce a Galway-based pledge that includes a commitment not to engage in any form of discrimination - be it classism, sexism, homophobia, or ableism. We need to be held accountable for our words when we're given a mandate by the people. If we take a platform by running for election, we should be held responsible for the negative effects that our statements will have on marginalised communities.
'All available funding should be used to provide accommodation for communities with different needs, whether they be Travellers, people with disabilities, or young workers on precarious hours'
Our city council has consistently failed to meet minimum Traveller accommodation targets. The political party I represent, People Before Profit, has called out sitting councillors before for trying to insinuate that Galway’s Traveller population want special treatment. Yet figures released last week show the Galway City Council drew down €0 in allocated funding for Traveller accommodation last year.
We need representatives in City Hall who aim to speak for all communities in Galway city, and not people who ignore how underspending is sowing the seeds of division. I want to be a councillor who uses all available funding to provide accommodation for communities with different needs, whether they be Travellers, people with disabilities, young workers on precarious hours, etc. To not use money allocated and then to target that community is to act in reckless disregard of one's public sector duty as an elected representative,
Unlike general elections and referenda, everyone can vote in the elections in May. It was so disheartening informing people during the Marriage Equality and Repeal campaigns that they could not vote due to their residency status. The Galway Anti Racism Network has been in contact with the direct provision centres in the city about helping the residents living there to register to vote. It is not very encouraging to hear the majority had no idea that they could vote and that those who had inquired had not been helped with the process.
'Beware of politicians who attempt to deflect your righteous anger away from the corrupt systems that keep them in place'
I discovered a similar experience told to me by migrant workers running deli counters at night in the city - most did not know they were entitled to vote, but this only partially revealed their disengagement with wider Irish society. Many homeless people, whether sleeping rough or 'hidden homeless', have expressed concern about their civil rights. They want to have a say about the failure of the council to build public housing, but find registering to vote even more cumbersome due to their living status. Our voter registration process is unnecessarily difficult to navigate for those most affected by the bad decision-making of successive city councils.
Let the weeks ahead be full of constructive discussion on topics like housing, health and employment that does not force a competition between needs. It's got nothing to do with Ahmed the asylum seeker, who lives in the Great Western, that your landlord has increased your rent. It's not Martin's fault, a Traveller from Westside, that your commute to work is just hours and hours of traffic. Xan, who works behind the deli on the corner of Shop Street - she didn't cause your son to be refused a place in the new private school. Ade is just driving a taxi for a living, he has no impact on your boss cutting your contracted hours.
Beware of politicians who attempt to deflect your righteous anger away from the corrupt systems that keep them in place. Please inform yourself about the pledges already in place and keep an eye out for the community-led Galway initiative in the coming weeks.
Joe Loughnane is the chair of the Galway Anti-Racism Network and the People Before Profit local election candidate for Galway City Central.