Election hopefuls suffer verbal and online racism ahead of next week’s poll

Four first-time candidates in the Galway city council elections have experienced various forms of racist abuse while campaigning ahead of the June 7 poll.

In the Galway City East Local Electoral Area (LEA ), Labour’s Helen Ogbu and the Green Party’s Joyce Matthias have experienced a number of upsetting incidents, with intensity increasing as polling day approaches. Both women have also experienced torrents of online abuse, witnessed by the Advertiser.

Two non-white candidates in the Galway City West LEA, Asraf Chowdhury (FG ) and Esther Osayimwen (Ind ) have experienced very little racially charged opposition in person, although online is a different matter.

Ogbu says the vast majority of her interactions with the public have been warm, supportive and positive, whilst any politically negative reactions have been polite and businesslike. The community worker can list off five, separate, in-person incidents with a racial character, although she contends it is the online abuse which is most insidious as “it never stops”.

“People tell me to forget about it and I try to be thick-skinned, but it’s hard not to be bothered when it’s all the time,” she says.

One incident stands out in her mind where a member of her canvassing team was abused as a ‘race traitor’. “He was shouting at me to get back to my country, even though this is my country where my daughter was born. Then he was shouting at my [white Irish] friend that she was a traitor – practically spitting in her face,” says Ogbu.

“I understand migration and the cost of living are important topics, but it’s not migrants’ faults,” she says. “It’s hard to find an Irish family without at least one person living abroad, and it’s hard to find an immigrant here without a job.

“My friend’s 18-year-old came home the other day upset because of some [racist] thing he’d read about me online. He was born here, grew up here and has his future here, and he shouldn’t have to worry abut facing into that.”

Shooed like an animal

Mathias is running for the Green Party in the same ward as Ogbu. Both women are originally Nigerian, and both have been living in Ireland for more than two decades.

“I have to prep my team every day about what they might face – my friends with an African background, and others,” she says. The candidate, who works in retail and as a translator, says her worst experiences have been “being shooed off a property like an animal, or a man screaming at me: ‘Go home and sort your own country first’.”

“I stay away from Twitter. There the racists hide under their keyboards.”

Over in Galway West, community worker Osayimwen says although she has had some “very stern” responses on the doorsteps, she can report no explicitly racist comments in person. Despite living in Ireland for 25 years after moving from Nigeria and being well used to the cut and thrust of politics after observing five local elections, Osayimwen says she made a conscious decision early in her campaign not to read comments under her social media posts in anticipation of zenophobic or racist slurs. “My mental health is too important to me,” she says.

Fine Gael’s Chowdhury is originally from Bangladesh. The former chef-turned-taxi driver and community activist reckons he has canvassed over 4,000 houses so far in Knocknacarra, with “only one or two” bad experiences he declined to describe, whereas his Facebook posts have attracted the attention of bigots.

“My children were born here. We must show them love for their country. They see me involved in my local community, even though I wasn’t born here, and that is the most important message to make out there,” he says.

Garda advice

In a statement, Superintendent Seán Fallon of the Garda National Community Engagement Bureau said each Garda division has appointed a senior officer to ensure the safety of all election campaigners whilst canvassing, and online.

“Our Garda Divisional Crime Prevention Officers are based around the country to help on any matter of personal safety and are available to take a report of any incident. Should any election candidate or person involved in the campaign find themselves in immediate danger or in an emergency, please always call 999 or 112.”

 

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