New faces of Irish politics

Resource type: News

Le Monde diplomatique |

Forum on Migration and Communications (FOMACS) is an Atlantic grantee.

Interest in European elections is traditionally low, but not in Ireland, where political and economic crises have animated voters. Meanwhile, in local elections, also on 5 June, the immigrant community has become a vibrant new force

BY COLIN MURPHY

“The worst thing is the war,” says Anna Rooney, simply. All around her, these past months, people have been losing jobs, closing businesses, cutting budgets. The national conversation has been dominated by talk of recession and straitened times. Anna Rooney, however, has an alternative perspective. “When you go through the war, your eyes are opened differently.” Standing in this small village on the southern side of the border with Northern Ireland, with her local surname, hint of a local accent, and shock of reddish hair (closer inspection shows it to be purple), an outsider might think Rooney to be talking about what Irish people have always euphemistically referred to as “the Troubles”, the long history of Irish civil conflict for which the border is the totem.

Rooney did grow up on a contested border, but it wasn’t this one. Hers was in the Soviet Union. An ethnic Armenian, with a grandfather from Ukraine, she grew up in the contested province of Abkhazia in Georgia, later moving across the border to the Russian resort town of Sochi. When war broke out between Abkhazian separatists and Georgia in 1992, Rooney’s family were lucky to escape unharmed. But they were scarred in other ways. “Suddenly, we had nothing.”

They succeeded in starting over, and the experience was formative for her. So now she says: “We can get through this crisis. Everybody just has to find the strength.” Rooney exudes strength. In the Soviet education system, she says, they were taught to be leaders. She makes a wry comparison with the Irish Catholic education system, in which the Catholic sacraments mark the key staging posts of childhood: “You have Communion and Confirmation [sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church]. We had the same – but with a political side to it.”

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Colin Murphy is a writer and journalist based in Dublin. This article was produced with the assistance of the Forum on Migration and Communications (see www.fomacs.org)

Photo: Michael Abiola-Phillips on the campaign trail with his two children, Joshua (6) and Mary (5). Credit: Colin Murphy