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What Participating in Local Elections in Ireland Taught Me

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Photo: Natalia Krasnenkova. Source: Author's photo archive.
Photo: Natalia Krasnenkova. Source: Author's photo archive.

Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Natalia Krasnenkova, a PR specialist from Kyiv, has relocated to Ireland. In her new home, Natalia dedicates herself to the welfare of Ukrainian refugees. Recently, she participated in local elections, and her experience might inspire other Ukrainians.

A month ago, local elections took place in Ireland, and for the first time, Ukrainian names appeared on the ballots. Mine was among them.

A month before the elections, I decided to run for a councillor position in the Kerry County Council. I did not win.

However, I gained invaluable experience, a deeper understanding of the political processes in Ireland, nationwide media and personal recognition, and numerous connections at all levels. Now, whenever the media cover Ukrainian issues, they ask for my commentary, making me another voice for Ukrainians in Ireland.

I wasn't the only Ukrainian candidate; three other Ukrainian women ran across the country. Despite having party support and resources, they also didn't succeed. I ran as an independent candidate, which meant handling all expenses and activities on my own.

Ireland is one of three European countries that allow non-citizens to run and vote in local elections regardless of their length of stay. Ten other European countries permit non-citizen migrants to run after a certain period of residence. Few people, including locals, are aware of this legislative provision. Irish people have been migrating since the 19th century when they fled famine to America. Now they migrate for better jobs and cheaper living. New migrants take their place. Since the 1990s, labor migrants from Poland, Lithuania, Croatia, and Romania have arrived here. Currently, 12% of Ireland's population are migrants, but only 1% of the government represents the migrant community.

Why did I decide to run for election? For two reasons. I studied at a migrant leadership academy and gained extensive knowledge about the local political system. I was curious to see how it works from the inside. Additionally, I work in a non-governmental organization that helps Ukrainians. My position is called a "community worker," which is somewhat between a social worker and a project manager addressing community needs. Every day, Ukrainians come to me with their problems—access to medical services, education, employment assistance, starting their own businesses, and housing. These issues overwhelm me because my tools to solve them are very limited. I can write hundreds of letters to various government agencies and wait for responses. I hoped that a councillor position would give me more authority to advocate for and resolve Ukrainians' problems.


Why didn't I win? There are 3,500 Ukrainians living in Kerry County. I thought if even half of them voted for me as their first or second choice, I would have a good chance of crossing the 1,700 vote quota and winning. Ukrainians, traditionally not very active in local elections in Ukraine, were equally inactive in Ireland.

Analyzing the reasons for my defeat, I think I had catastrophically little time and resources to reach all our people and explain why they need their representative in government, what powers local councils have, how to register for elections, and how to vote.

Since we, Ukrainians, participated in the elections for the first time, we were not on the electoral lists. Every day, I visited hotels and places where Ukrainians live, helping people register online.

Interestingly, Ireland uses the Scottish voting model, where voters rank candidates by preference. A voter chooses not one candidate but several, placing 1, 2, 3, etc., next to their names. This means that a candidate who crosses the threshold gives surplus votes to those who were ranked second on their ballots. The votes of eliminated candidates also transfer to others who were marked as second. This system is difficult to understand even for locals, and for Ukrainians, it was an even greater challenge.

Inspiring and educating all 3,500 Ukrainians about the elections in a month is extremely difficult. Almost impossible. Especially when you are almost alone, with only a few friends in your team. Therefore, I often said in all interviews that my main competitors were not other candidates, but the apathy and ignorance of Ukrainians.

Three weeks before the elections, the government announced news about cutting social benefits for Ukrainians, and two weeks before, about reducing housing programs. This severely shook the Ukrainian community, who faced the threat of being left homeless or forced to return to Ukraine. Many of them are from occupied territories or have had their homes destroyed. Amidst this news, people were thinking not about the elections, but about planning their immediate future and where to go next. Meanwhile, I was fighting the government through the media to reconsider such a spontaneous and thoughtless decision.

Overall, I think two factors were decisive in my failure to enter the Kerry County Council—the time factor and the government's decisions regarding Ukrainians. However, I now have experience and knowledge and will continue to be a voice for Ukrainians in Kerry.

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