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Ban on canvassing in direct provision centres criticised

Thursday, 15th May, 2014 1:00am

The Immigrant Council of Ireland have this week criticised a ban on political canvassing in direct provision centres, arguing that it “could prevent residents with a right to vote in the local elections from making informed decisions”.

"Canvassing is an opportunity to inform residents, who in many cases have limited or no access to the web and other media to find out what each candidate stands for. For some asylum seekers the local poll could be their first opportunity to take part in fair and free elections."

“A ban on candidates canvassing in direct provision centres is denying residents an opportunity to become informed of policies and make an informed decision on 23 May. We believe this is wrong.”

Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland was responding to assertions by local election candidates who claim to have been denied access to direct provision centres for canvassing.

This week  Sinn Féin local election candidate, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, raised the issue expressing his disappointment after being informed that he was not permitted to canvass residents in the Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre.

Under Irish law non-EU citizens living in Ireland have the right to vote in local elections and it is believed that at least 152 residents at the Kinsale Road centre are registered to vote.

Mr Ó Laoghaire stated that he rang the centre in the hopes of making arrangements to visit the residents of the centre.

"I was informed that candidates were not permitted to enter to canvass, that this was a national policy, that centres had to be kept politically neutral."

"I then rang the reception and integration agency, who confirmed that this was the case, that the centres were 'politically neutral zones'."

"It is my view that this is wrong, and is a breach of the democratic rights of the more than 150 people who are registered to vote at the centre, and who should be just as entitled as anyone else to meet their public representatives," Mr Ó Laoghaire argued.

"We cannot continue to adopt the policy of 'out of sight, out of mind'. This is another way in which those in direct provision are being marginalized. They deserve the same ability to put questions to their representatives as anyone, and I believe that this is an interference with the democratic rights of the residents."

Jennifer de Wan, campaigns and communications officer with immigrant rights centre NASC spoke to about the organisation's concern regarding this national policy.

She says that it is “undemocratic and only serves to disenfranchise asylum seekers”.

"While people are pending their refugee status those centres are their homes. They should have the same right as everyone else to be engaged with."

NASC say that they will be lobbying the Department of Justice regarding the changing of this policy and in the meantime are looking to organise a meeting between the centre's residents and candidates.

The meeting is hoped to take place early next week and NASC are inviting interested parties to make contact.

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