Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Words on Wednesday...with Daithí McKay

As promised here is my interview with Sinn Féin MLA for North Antrim Daithí McKay. Apologies again to Mr McKay for the delay in publishing this piece.

This will be my last post for a while. Thanks to all of you who left get well wishes in the previous post. Hopefully I'll be back in business in the near future.

So then, on to the interview...

(Note - the following piece was conducted in late June)

You are a Sinn Féin MLA for North Antrim. Talk us through a typical day in your life.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical day in this job; every day is different from the last, which is a good thing of course. I’ll take you through Monday from last week: Up at 6.30am, leave home at 7am to beat the M2 traffic and get to the Assembly. Switch on the computer at work and sift through a plethora of e-mails, which range from invites to environmental functions to constituency queries regarding school-places.

After processing the above I sit down to sign 500 letters, which will be delivered by party activists in Glenravel, to give local people an update on serious road-safety issues in the area.

It's down to Assembly business after that. All Sinn Féin MLAs meet at 10am to discuss today’s business before the Assembly begins for the day. During the sitting members pose questions to the First & Deputy First Minister, the Agriculture Minister and the Minister for Culture, Arts & Leisure. It isn’t a case of sitting back and watching the day’s proceedings and many members like myself regularly bring constituency work into the chamber to work on during the sitting. One of the pressing matters for me today is the problem that some constituents are facing in regard to late Single Farm Payments.

After leaving the Assembly I touch base with the Sinn Féin advice centre in Dunloy and get caught up with constituency work. I give the local radio station a quick ring and give them an interview in regard to Sinn Féin’s call for a new Marine Bill and the benefits it would have for bio-diversity at Rathlin Island which forms part of the North Antrim constituency.

I return a number of phone-calls and set up some meetings for the next couple of weeks, including one to Cushendall Fire Station, which has been seriously underfunded for nearly 20 years and badly needs replaced by the DHSSPS.

After leaving the office I head to the gym between 8.30-9pm and arrive home after 10pm. Single life means squeezing in the washing, ironing, cooking, etc in the late hours as well as some letter-writing and press statements. I’d typically hit the sack between 1 and 2am.

You once worked as a Political Adviser to Philip McGuigan whose seat you now hold. What was that experience like and did it help to prepare you for dealing with constituency issues in North Antrim?

It was a very good experience. Philip is very much a grassroots worker and is extremely dedicated to what he does, so to work along with him certainly did me the world of good. It certainly gave me a firm grasp of the main issues in the constituency and because I was working on policy matters and working in the Assembly, being elected to the Assembly was not the steep learning curve it could have been.

You took your North Antrim seat on the first count. Were you surprised at the strength of your victory?

Well firstly it wasn’t ‘my’ victory, it was a victory for the party and its workers in the constituency, and I am under no illusion that the strength of the victory was down to hard work on the ground and the fact that many people agreed with our policies, not personality. Was I surprised? No.

What was life like growing up for you in the north of Ireland? Did you encounter much sectarianism?

I think that the older I got the more sectarianism I experienced, or perhaps became more aware of it. I’m from a mainly nationalist rural community in North Antrim but went to school and worked in Ballymena where you may not have encountered sectarianism head-on but it was always under the surface so to speak. I have to say that things have actually got worse in the town in recent years and the death of Michael McIlveen was clearly a result of that.

More recently I was stopped by PSNI Officers and questioned under the PTA Act – minor harassment that is quite common when dealing with the DMSU. When taking my name the officer asked “Is that a foreign name sir?!” at which he and his colleagues laughed. Many people refer to the ‘rotten apple’ theory when talking about bad police officers but for many nationalists and republicans it cannot be applicable until officers like the one mentioned above is taken to task by his colleagues, not congratulated.

What are your thoughts on a united Ireland? Will it be achieved in the near future?

I have no doubt that it will. The north was a state based on supremacy and discrimination. As we move to a situation where equality is enshrined and safeguarded the whole rationale for the existence of the state will be no more. I believe people will look at what makes sense, not only in terms of the economy, but in terms of tourism, in terms of managing the environment, in terms of infrastructure and so on. A United Ireland makes sense in so many ways.

Would you agree that the British government wants to be free of Ireland's north as soon as possible?

I believe that many within the British government would harbour that view, but I would also state that there are many within British intelligence, within the British Tory Party and other influential members of British society that will still continue to fight tooth and nail to hang onto their final ‘colony’.

What would you say to a unionist to convince he/she that a united Ireland would be better than the status quo?

If there was a United Ireland a party of the Unionist tradition could quite conceivably form part of a coalition government if they had the electoral strength they have now. In such a situation they would actually have more power than they have now in a devolved administration. Aside from that if the economy north and south is to prosper it must operate as a single unit with a single currency. And as both Derek Dougan and George Best said, we’d qualify for every World Cup if we had an all-Ireland soccer team.

Earlier this year Sinn Féin made the historic decision to support the PSNI. You are now one of three Sinn Féin members on the board. What has it been like so far?

I think it's too early to make a full assessment. We have only attended one full board meeting thus far but be rest assured that we are in there to challenge the status quo and we are in there to deliver real and meaningful change for the community. Delivering good policing will not come as a result of engagement with the board alone however. Much of it will rest with what happens on the ground and with the engagement of our local councillors with District Policing Partnerships. Personally speaking I will never accept bad policing in any form within my community and if I see it or experience it then I will act to make sure that those engaged in it are held accountable.

What have your experiences been like dealing with DUP MLAs in the Assembly? Has it been an amicable environment?

In certain instances, yes. There remain fundamental differences between our parties so obviously the Assembly isn’t always an ‘amicable’ environment, but certainly there seems to be an eagerness within many of the DUP Assembly members to work constructively and in the best interests of our electorate, and that means building a positive working relationship with ourselves as the largest nationalist party.

Turning to the recent election in the Republic for a moment, why did Sinn Féin fare so badly in your opinion?

I think there could be one reason why we didn’t perform better in the 26 Counties, but there could also be 100 reasons. What we need to focus on now is identifying what the reasons were for our performance, and addressing those issues. I certainly don’t agree with the SDLP Leader’s assessment that the southern electorate are ‘more mature’ than the northern electorate which is an astounding statement for any elected representative to come out with.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom however, and people will see past all the usual suspects in the media sounding the death knell for Sinn Féin (again!). After a strong performance in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan we are now the biggest party in Ulster and the third biggest party on the island.

How do you feel about Fianna Fáil achieving another term in power?

Putting Mary Harney in charge of Health? I think its dreadful. Fianna Fáil look set to continue with the hospital co-location scheme, they, along with the Greens, are going to push ahead with the M3 through Tara and accommodate US military forces involved in the Iraq war at Shannon Airport. The cabinet looks set to continue with the failed policies of the past and that is something that Sinn Féin could in no way support.

What are some of the political issues that you are focusing on at this point in time in your constituency?

Housing and Rural Planning would be the biggest issues at the moment. Aside from that the threat of a lignite mine in North Antrim, sectarianism, tourism, parades and policing are still important matters that need addressed in the eyes of many people here.

More specifically, there is still discrimination within the local Councils in Ballymena and Ballymoney that needs tackled and the proposal to build a new dual carriageway through homes and farms in Cloughmills is also causing public concern. We are beginning to make some ground in putting Social Development money into areas that need it most, such as Dunclug in Ballymena and hopefully areas like this can be regenerated with the help of such projects.

The scourge of drugs in Ballymena and beyond remains a problem that hasn’t been adequately dealt with and that is something that must be pushed up the political agenda now that the Assembly has been restored.

If you could change three things about Irish society, north or south, what would you change and why?

- I would like to see the sense of community spirit restored to the way it was previously. There are still organisations like the GAA who do tremendous work in this field but the fact that in many cases people don’t even know their own neighbours and spend much of their time working and coming home to watch TV is a step backward from the days when people ‘ceilidhed’ in each other’s houses.

- Ireland should have a world-class health system, free to everyone.

- An end to sectarianism, bigotry, racism and discrimination of all kinds.

Where should Ireland be twenty years from now?

In a United Ireland, no longer reliant on oil and leading the way in alternative and renewable energy, have a reliable public transport system and a strong policy on neutrality. The Health Service should be reliable and free for all, people should be fluent in at least two languages (like most other European countries) and the economy should be booming with a strong base of indigenous businesses, and less reliance on foreign companies.

What does the future hold in store for you?

More work I’d imagine! I’ll accept any role that I’m given in the party, full-time or otherwise. As long as I’m helping effect positive change in this society, and have a roof over my head and food on the table I’ll be happy enough.

Finally I'd like to play a small round of word association. I'm sure you know what it entails. Basically just outline what word comes into your head when you hear the following:

Bertie Ahern -
Ian Paisley - Never?
Gerry Adams - Sharp
Tony Blair - Iraq
Mark Durkan - Lacking
Fianna Fáil - Conservative
DUP - Unionism
Sinn Féin - Community
United Ireland - Coming
Daithí McKay – “Nothing special, nothing grand”

My thanks to Mr McKay for taking my questions. Previous interviews can be found here.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

© 2008 United Irelander.