20 May 2024

Voting, democracy, and active citizenship: Belmayne Community Group and a visit to the Dáil

Image shows two women standing together in the Dáil in front of multiple colourful flags and the Irish Proclamation

Writing by Larisa Sioneriu, AONTAS Adult Education Initiatives Officer

Belmayne Community Group was re-established in 2022 in Belmayne, Dublin 13. They organise education initiatives and activities for the local community. 

On May 7th, we went with a group from Belmayne Community Group to the Dáil, marking the end of a course they have been running on Voter Education. This course stems from work we at AONTAS have been doing to raise awareness of the importance of voting, and incorporate democratic participation activities into adult learning.  

This Voter Education Group is part of a social inclusion voting campaign in Belmayne. They have been working actively to facilitate engagements between local people and local representatives. They have invited local candidates to canvass potential voters in the social housing apartment blocks in the area. Normally, election candidates wouldn't have access to the people in the apartments.

Voter turnover has previously been quite low in Belmayne, and this has a direct impact on resources allocated to the area. The Voter Education group are trying to engage more people, show them why voting matters, and the changes it can make. 

Background work and training through AONTAS 

Earlier this year, we partnered with Dublin Adult Learning Centre (DALC) to run a free two-day residential experiential training programme on voter education. Fionnaigh Connaughton from DALC provided training on how to deliver their excellent Voter Education and Active Citizenship programme.  

This unique training opportunity was exclusively for Community Education Network (CEN) Members and ran in Maynooth University in February. We then offered €800 towards delivery costs of their own programme with adult learners to raise awareness of why people should vote and how it makes a difference. 

The Belmayne group is one of the 13 community education groups who delivered a three-week programme on the importance of voting in local elections, as well as on the process of voting. This course equipped residents from the Belmayne area with the knowledge and attitudes necessary to continue their work as leaders in their community.  

The course was organized and delivered by Michelle McGoldrick, a passionate advocate for adult education and community initiatives.  

In the Dáil

The day unfolded with stimulating conversations between the participants recalling their main take aways from the course, a simulation of voting in local elections, a guided tour in the Dáil, and a conversation with Cian O’Callaghan TD The participants on the Belmayne course also received certificates of completion and everyone had a group lunch in the Balgriffin Inn. We accompanied the group for the day, to capture their learnings and experiences.  

The eleven participants ranged in age, gender, nationality but all agreed on how much they had learned throughout the course, and how important it is for this type of information to be made available to all members of the community.  

As part of the programme, participants had the opportunity to engage in conversations with their local candidates. They told us that this interaction was fundamental in developing their relationship with politics. 

 ‘When local politicians came in, they explained more about how the system works – I learned a lot from listening to them, even though I felt quite informed’ Johnny, participant 

‘Meeting the candidates last week made me move my numbers, change my mind’ - Ciara Sloan, participant 

Learners also talked about the importance of having candidates who have lived experience similar to that of the community, so that they can represent fully their needs and interests. 

‘Have any of these people been homeless, have any of these people have a child with disability?’ - Carol, participant 

Participants expressed that their local representatives should be local members of the community and actively engaged in community matters and initiatives.  

While they reported that specific party affiliations don’t influence their decision in voting in the local elections, it was important that they represent clearly their agendas and don’t just tell people what they need to hear – transparency and authenticity weigh more.  

‘The only people who are going to change things in the community are the people of the community’ - Ciara Sloan, participant 

To address the need to bridge the community with the local candidates further, Michelle McGoldrick offered the small community hub for the candidates to carry out a regular clinic. 

The group also discussed European elections, a topic they knew about.  

When asked who is likely to be affected by the outcomes of the European elections, they agreed that everybody was affected by them, ‘our kids, our communities, even migrants and refugees.’    

In relation to education on European elections, the group expressed concerns that education alone was not enough, as there are key members of the communities, like asylum seekers, who are affected by the decisions made at European levels but have no right to vote. 

The group was welcomed by Cian O'Callaghan, Deputy Leader of the Social Democrats and a TD for Dublin Bay North. There was an opportunity to ask him questions about current issues.  

Cian discussed his priorities with the group and highlighted previous initiatives he has worked on, such as introducing bills to put a stop to land speculation and increase the delivery of social and affordable homes.  

The group expressed their concerns for their community that has transformed over a few short years with the increase of high-rise apartments. Their concerns also focused on the lack of services for the people moving into and currently living in Belmayne. Cian understood the concerns of the group and welcomed the feedback. 

This work is part of our Learners as Leaders programme, which has been running for several years. We work with around 30 learners every year. It is funded through the (New) European Agenda for Adult Learning, for which AONTAS is the national co-ordinator in Ireland. These programmes are happening all across Europe. Find out more.  

For more information, contact Larisa at