Uruemu Adejinmi becomes cathaoirleach
Uruemu Adejinmi made history by becoming the first female African major in Ireland

The election of Uruemu Adejinmi to the position of Cathaoirleach of Longford Municipal District attracted significant media attention across Ireland and abroad – and rightly so.

The Fianna Fáil politician has been working hard for Longford since long before she was co-opted to the council last year.

Ms Adejinmi grew up in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria, in what she refers to as a middle class household in Nigeria where she led “a sheltered life”.

The second of seven children, she went to boarding school in Nigeria before going to University and earning herself a degree in mathematics.

“And then I started working in Nigeria. So, shortly after I got married, there was a change in my personal circumstances and that’s what led me to come to Ireland in 2003,” she told the Longford Leader over coffee last week.

“Now, I don’t know what made me settle in Longford but Longford was the first town I lived in. I think there was a family that

I knew in Longford so I suppose I just gravitated towards Longford because I knew somebody there. And I think when I settled in Longford, I didn’t really have a reason to leave. It’s a lovely town, a great place to raise kids.”

Uruemu now lives a very happy life in the Longford Municipal District with her husband, Kenny, her three children, Tomson, Samuel and Alexandra, and the family dog, Georgie.

It was around the time of the 2016 General Election that Uruemu started to consider a political path.

“An ad campaign popped up on my feed and it was Jimmy Morgan running for the General Election as an Independent candidate,” she explained.

“And he posted one of his manifestos and I can’t remember what it was, but I just commented on it in passing. The next thing he responded to my comment. He sent me a friend request, and I thought this is all a bit much. But I accepted and he asked to meet for coffee so he can explain why he’s running.

“I ended up introducing him to Africans in the community. And unfortunately he didn’t get elected, but then Joe Flaherty, who lives three doors down from me, came to me and said, ‘I didn’t know you have an interest in politics. You should join my party and work with us’,” she said.

“And so I read up on Fianna Fáil and I was happy enough with their policies, so I joined and started participating actively.”

Uruemu’s political activism is just another layer to a very busy and socially involved life. She’s also on the board of management of her children’s primary school and is very involved in St Mel’s parish, sitting on the parish council.

As if that wasn’t already enough, she set up the hugely successful Longford Africans Network after she started her political journey .

Uruemu was co-opted to Longford County Council last year after former councillor Joe Flaherty was elected to Dáil Éireann, leaving his seat vacant. Fast forward to June 2021 and she now wears the cathaoirleach chain for Longford Municipal District, making her the first black female to be elected to a mayoral position in Irish politics.

“It’s beyond anything I ever thought of, because obviously the reason I got involved is to help and to strengthen relations and to just be that tool to increase interactions, increase integration, which will help us stamp down on discrimination, on racism, on negative experiences people have,” she said.

“So to get this benefit of an increase in my profile is just an unbelievable benefit. And I’m so fortunate and so grateful to my councillors for such a vote of confidence in my abilities as well. And to the African community, to the native community in Longford, to the migrant community in general, there’s been such an overwhelmingly positive reaction to this news.

“And I think you barely see any negative reaction to this, which is so great. It’s encouraging for me because it’s showing that my efforts are being received positively and being encouraged to continue in this direction and people have been inspired as well.

“I’m really thankful. I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity. And I continue to work hard to represent the good people of Longford who have embraced me from day one in Ireland. And just to encourage people, both natives and migrants, whatever situation they are at, to continue to push, continue to aspire, continue to go for any dream they have; go for it – even if it doesn’t happen.

“Like was my story in 2019, I didn’t get elected but it didn’t stop me and I continued to be active within the party. And then, suddenly, in 2020 another opportunity came for me. So it’s just so important for people to continue to push their dreams.”

In recent years, the issue of racism has been very much brought to the fore of people’s minds in Longford. Last year, a very successful Black Lives Matter event was hosted in the Market Square while, a year earlier, far-right activist, Gemma O’Doherty, visited Longford and live-streamed her tour around the town, causing outrage among locals and inviting racist comments via online platforms.

But if there’s one thing the people of Longford have proven again and again it’s that there is no place for racism in the local community.

“I think the worst of it in Longford is if somebody is not comfortable, they just don’t interact. Which is perfectly fine because something you’re not used to, you can either keep your distance, or you can make an attempt to get familiar with it, and whatever anybody chooses is fine,” said Uruemu.

“But I don’t think there’s any kind of racially motivated attacks like somebody randomly coming to you and spewing hatred in your face. I don’t think there’s anything like that in Longford. And I hope there isn’t because I’m conscious that everybody has different lived experiences.

“But personally I think Longford is a very welcoming community. Look at my journey from 2003. I went from working, to progressing, to becoming a councillor, to becoming mayor. I see Longford as a land of opportunities for myself, as a migrant, and for anybody, native and migrant alike.

“My friendships are brilliant. I have native friends, I have migrant friends, I have Nigerian friends, African friends, Asian friends, European friends. There’s such a diverse community in Longford and everybody gets on.”

As Cathaoirleach of Longford MD, Uruemu hopes to tackle a number of important issues in the area. Top of that list is housing.

“We need to look at the issues that are affecting people in the community and a big one is housing. There’s a long waiting list.

There’s people in housing assisted payments and you have people struggling with their finances and still having to pay exorbitant rents,” she explained.

“And property prices are going up now and cost of rent is increasing and people’s wages are not increasing in that scale as well. So we need to work on housing, get social housing in here and get land and build as opposed to investing in private rented accommodation.

“And a lot of money is going into that at the moment. So I am working hard with my councilor colleagues and the council executives to try and increase our social housing stock so that more people get into houses and can start planning for their future as well.

“So housing is the big ticket item for me. And I’m hoping that we can get a lot of work done. A lot has happened in the last year with funding being allocated to bring voids back into habitable states.”

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First published in the Irish Examiner

Written by Jessica Thompson