Money, healthcare and schools, rather than flags and the Irish language, are the issues that are central to the lives of local people as we enter “another tough year”, insists Michelle Gildernew, the MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone.
As she looks ahead to the impending Westminster election in May, Ms Gildernew has given an in-depth interview to the TIMES, in which she reflects on the growing number of families who have had to resort to using foodbanks, and says it will be “interesting” to see how other parties enter this electoral battle for one of the most politically and historically significant constituencies.
In a frank discussion, the long-standing MP admits that the sex abuse scandal surrounding Belfast woman, Mairia Cahill, could have been “handled differently and better” by Sinn Fein, but claims the party leader, Gerry Adams, has been subjected to a “very vicious campaign” aimed at damaging his and Sinn Fein’s electoral success.
Asked whether she felt the allegations made by Ms Cahill in a BBC Spotlight documentary towards the end of last year had damaged Sinn Fein’s position as the political party with the highest number of female elected representatives per capita in Ireland, Michelle Gildernew said: “We have to understand the context in which all of this has happened. I have no doubt that Mairia Cahill was a victim of sexual violence or of abuse. I have no doubt that we could have handled it better. But I also believe that we have to learn from this and make sure that we put in place structures.
“We are looking at a very different time, a time when Mairia herself was advised to go to the police and refused to do that. So we have to look at the conditions in which all of this happened. I know that we certainly are very cognisant of the need to support people and we have advised people to go to the police, to go to social services, to seek help.
“Because, I know myself, if you are struggling to cope with something and help is not available to you, that’s a very very lonely place to be. So from that point of view I think things could have been handled differently and better.”
On the very real hardships faced by families and the elderly, Michelle Gildernew says: “I know there are lots of my constituents who are struggling to make ends meet. Those people might have young children at primary school, they might have children at post primary, they might have two or three children in third level education, and those people, really and truly, are struggling to get by.”
Ms Gildernew added: “We see a situation whereby policies devised either in London or Belfast that might or might not look good on paper, but the impact that it might have on the ground can be very different.
“While I think our small and medium sector are doing their best to remain in business, a lot of businesses are just clinging on, holding on by their fingertips and hoping that there’s going to be a better day coming.
“So when we saw an increase in foodbanks in use across the north, when we see people really and truly finding that they are having to resort to foodbanks, resort to having a lot of the luxuries I suppose being disposed of over the years, and now the essentials, people are having to cut back on essentials too. It is a concern for me and for the people of Fermanagh South Tyrone.”