Report on Second Sanctuary in Politics Dublin – By Andy Pollak

The fifth and final session was on political and social campaigning in Ireland, and how refugees, asylum seekers and migants might make their voices heard through such campaigns. The main speaker was Noel Whelan, lawyer, newspaper columnist and one of the key figures behind the hugely successful Marriage Equality campaign in 2015, the world’s first referendum to put marriage between same sex partners into a country’s constitution.

Noel spoke of the importance of three things: clarity of message, chronology (working back from a successful outcome and outlining the steps needed to reach that outcome) and capacity (mobilising the necessary resources). He spoke of the need to focus a successful campaign beyond the two ‘comfort zones’ of family and friends and people one mixed with on a regular basis towards the ‘others’ who might feel uncomfortable with and unnerved by your message. He emphasised the importance of personal testimonies by high profile and well-respected people in society (both national and local), such as former President Mary McAleese. A video of Noel’s talk about why he decided to get involved with the marriage equality campaign is available on YouTube.


This presentation was followed by talks from two campaigners who have focussed more on refugee and migrant issues: Rares-Mihai Nicula, Social Inclusion Coordinator with the New Communities Partnership and Pippa Woolnough, Communications and Advocacy Manager with the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

At lunchtime on this final day course completion certificates were presented by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Rebecca Moynihan, to all participants. Councillor Moynihan spoke about the need for Dublin to give a warm welcome to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to the city, both because they were often fleeing terrible situations of war, persecution and poverty, and because of the new energies and skills they brought to the city.

A delicious buffet lunch was served by Clodagh O’Reilly-Boyles and volunteers from the Irish School of Ecumenics and City of Sanctuary Dublin. The early afternoon was spent discussing the the Sanctuary in Politics course manifesto which participants will present at the Oireachtas in May. The course finished at 3.30 pm

Participants were enthusiastic in their written evaluations of the course. Among the comments were: “this course opened my eyes and ears”; “everything went smoothly and we all looked forward to these Saturdays”; “if we work together like this we will achieve more things”; “we got to know the wonderful people in City of Sanctuary who put smiles on our faces”; “I gained more confidence to voice my thoughts” and “I will be able to talk to the media now.” On the negative side, some participants found some of the speakers difficult to understand.

Particular thanks for the success of this course are due to the Irish School of Ecumenics at TCD for their hosting and provision of meals and refreshments, and in particular Professor Gillian Wylie, Clodagh O’Reilly-Boyles and Allison Harmon. Also the following volunteers from City of Sanctuary Dublin: Tian Yu Lloyd, Francis McEvoy, Almut Schlepper, Corona Joyce, Nadette Foley, Niall Sargent, Lassane Ouedraogo, Veronica Crosbie, Brian and Tiffy Allen, and Andy Pollak.