The Department of Justice and Equality, through the Reception & Integration Agency (RIA), has always facilitated and encouraged the registration of and voting by protection applicants in local elections. Residents are informed with regard to their eligibility to vote in particular elections and on arrangements for registering as voters.
The Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration within my Department has supported a number of events focused on encouraging political participation of migrants in local politics.
Multi-lingual material has been developed for voter registration information and for the local and European elections. This information is accessible and available on the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government website.
RIA has recently revised its policy in relation to canvassing and political activity in accommodation centres. This is in line with actions in the Migrant Integration Strategy 2017-2020 which focus on efforts to ensure that the political system becomes more representative of the broader population.
In the 30 day period leading up to a referendum or election (local, national or European) in which residents may be eligible to vote, canvassers and political representatives may leave material for display in a designated area, e.g. on the public notice board / tables in the accommodation centre for the information of residents.
Canvassers and candidates may arrange to meet by appointment with residents in communal spaces, in keeping with the agreed procedures for visitors to centres as outlined in ‘RIA House Rules & Procedures - Revised January 2019’. Centre managers should put measures in place to facilitate such visits.
In instances where a centre is comprised of individual accommodation units and includes mobile homes, houses and self-catering apartments, candidates and canvassers may be facilitated where they wish to call ‘door to door’. However, there is no requirement on the part of a resident to engage with any candidate unless they choose to do so.
Centres should display notices in prominent locations throughout the accommodation centre within the 30 day period leading up to a referendum or local election indicating that:-
1. A referendum/local elections is being held with the polling date specified;
2. Residents in accommodation centres with the right to vote in local elections may be approached by candidates and/or canvassers on their behalf;
3. They are not required to engage with any candidate and/or canvasser;
4. It is the responsibility of each resident to ensure that they are registered to vote within an appropriate time frame.
Given the particular nature of the accommodation provided in centres, there are factors that limit unrestricted access by candidates to the private living quarters of residents. These include the communal nature of the accommodation system and the many practical and logistical difficulties that would arise for centre managers in providing unsupervised access in circumstances where families and children live together.
The general policy ensures that there are no restrictions placed on residents’ voting rights, or on their rights to access whatever information that candidates wish to convey to them, or on any rights to meet with candidates in the public areas of centres. It also ensures privacy in the residential units and the on-going protection of children in the centre.
There is an opportunity for the Friends of the Centre group at each centre to provide information to residents on how to register to vote and on the importance of local government within the political structure of the State. The Friends of the Centre groups can also raise awareness in an informal way about the importance of voting.