Galway election result a step towards normalisation of diversity

Labour's Helen Ogbu made history last weekend, becoming the first black woman to be elected to Galway City Council. 
Photo: Mike Shaughnessy.

Labour's Helen Ogbu made history last weekend, becoming the first black woman to be elected to Galway City Council. Photo: Mike Shaughnessy.

The incoming Galway city council will have six women members - four of them newly elected - the highest proportion in the history of the council. Each political party on the council now has a female councillor, along with the non-party grouping.

Our council - representing a city where 28% of the population was born outside Ireland and 21% do not identify as White - for the first time has a Black councillor.

These are historic developments, and hopefully just a step towards the normalisation of having a diverse council that reflects the diversity of our city. I am reminded, personally, of doing the Eve of Poll leaflet drop for Mary Robinson in 1990.

One man ran down the street to shove the leaflet back into my hand. A woman, he told me, should not - could not! - be president. I often wonder what cognitive dissonance he experienced over the next 21 years (and how his attitude affected the women and children in his life ).

There is much to celebrate in how much more diverse, progressive, and welcoming our city and country have become over the past few decades.

However, both locally and more widely there are also reasons for concern. A long history in Galway of arson and protest against Traveller accommodation has recently been matched by arson attacks (in Galway and nationally ) on housing for refugees and migrants.

Public representatives who excuse, justify, and cheer on this violence and hatred too often see subsequent success at the ballot box.

In the European elections, cos-playing neo-Nazis received tens of thousands of votes, while a broader swathe of xenophobes, bigots and ‘just asking questions’ dog whistlers received over 350,000 first preferences nationally, around one vote in five.

This can be a frightening time to be a visible minority in Ireland - and those with the courage to stand for election, in particular, were targeted by hate campaigns on social media.

It is vital that the dangers - for individuals, communities, and our very democratic system - of this rise in hate, suspicion, and punching down, be taken seriously by all with the power to enact positive change.

 

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