PLATFORM: Greater diversity vital ahead of 2023 elections

Next year, the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls to elect 462 councillors
Next year, the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls to elect 462 councillors Next year, the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls to elect 462 councillors

WITH all the recent talk of a potential fresh Assembly election being called by the Secretary of State, it would be easy to forget that there is a local government election in spring 2023.

Next May, the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls to elect 462 councillors across 11 council areas.

Councillors play a vital role in their constituencies and local communities and, in many ways, they are the most accessible and visible of our elected representatives.

Elected members to our 11 local councils are based in their communities, delivering for their constituents on a daily basis. They are community activists and leaders who live in the villages, townlands and suburban areas across the country.

Our councillors represent our local communities, give them a voice, and defend their interests.

However, while they may represent people from incredibly diverse backgrounds, different ethnicities and religions, abilities and sexual orientations, our councillors are not always fully reflective and representative of the rich diversity within Northern Ireland.

The 2021 census results published earlier this year show that Northern Ireland is more diverse than ever.

People from a minority ethnic background have nearly doubled in number since the last census in 2011 and one in 15 people living here were born outside the UK or Ireland.

We have a rich blend of religions and nationalities here and the 1.9 million of us who call Northern Ireland home have a diverse range of experiences, opinions, and views.

Ahead of next year’s elections, it’s crucial that our candidates and successfully elected representatives fully represent this rich diversity.

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association has launched a new and exciting campaign – Be A Councillor, Make A Difference – to encourage people from underrepresented backgrounds to consider making the leap into public life and frontline politics.

This includes people of colour, those with caring responsibilities, women, young people, people from the LGBTQIA+ community, and people with a disability.

This is a significant campaign and very timely as we approach the period when political parties are beginning to select their candidates ahead of next spring.

We want to encourage as varied a cohort of candidates as possible. A more diverse and inclusive society brings benefits for all of us. More diverse politics brings better policies, better legislation, and greater inclusivity with wider perspectives on how to improve our communities for everyone in them.

NILGA has written to all the major local parties to encourage them to ensure they keep this at the front of their minds as they begin their selection processes.

Facilitating and fostering proper diversity and inclusion among our parties and our candidates will help lead to a more inclusive society for us all.

Our parties have an important role to play to make sure our elected representatives are as reflective of the people they serve as possible and NILGA will work closely with all parties ahead of May 2023 to make this a reality.

Diversity and inclusion are more than just buzzwords. Ensuring a commitment to both can bring untold benefits for everyone in our communities.

Respecting the differences between us and reflecting the views, opinions, and experiences we all hold leads to a more cohesive society for everyone and ensures better policy and better laws for Northern Ireland.