Mickey Brady is a Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh and was first elected in 2007. With a background in the voluntary sector, he chairs the Assembly’s All-Party Group on Heart Disease and Stroke, and is Deputy Chair of the Social Development Committee and a member of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee.
What was your career before politics?
Before going onto politics, I worked in the voluntary sector. I was employed by the Confederation of Community Groups in Newry, running a welfare rights advice centre from 1981 to 2007. The issues I dealt with were benefits issues and housing problems and I worked on a cross-community basis.
How did your political career begin?
I have always been interested in politics and I have always been a republican. Being involved in community politics, it was a natural progression for me to become a Sinn Féin candidate in the election.
What do you count as your main achievement as an MLA to date?
Initially being elected and being able to represent my constituents of all shades of opinion, to the best of my ability. One achievement to date has been the campaign to maintain the electoral boundaries within the Newry city area and opposing proposed changes by the Boundary Commission.
What are the major issues facing your constituents?
A major issue facing my constituents is the proposed benefit cut in the Welfare Reform Bill. The Newry and Armagh constituency has historically been one of high unemployment and low wages so the changes to benefits will impact on the most vulnerable within our community, the young, the disabled, and the old and infirm. Any cuts in benefits will impact on the local economy as people spend their benefits where they live. I am currently the Vice-Chair of the Social Development Committee in the Assembly dealing with welfare reform, and I will certainly endeavour to mitigate and change the impact that this Bill will have on our constituents.
Sinn Féin has been willing to reform other areas of policy. Why should an exception be made for welfare?
Sinn Féin is a socialist party and a party of equals. We represent all our constituents and particularly those people who have not always had the representation they needed and deserved. In relation to welfare reform and benefit cuts, this is not the Tories attacking or trying to relieve poverty; it is an attack on the poor. We live in a society of high unemployment and low wages, and this is an attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. Surely, as politicians, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we stand up for these people and ensure that the impact of these cuts in benefits etc. do not have the devastating effects intended?
What are your main priorities on the Assembly’s Health Committee?
My main priority on the Assembly’s Health Committee is to ensure that our health service is fit for purpose. Also with the advent of ‘Transforming your Care’ over the next number of years, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that any changes will be beneficial and will provide a much improved health service where treatment is available and free. The recommendations of ‘Transforming Your Care’ should be rolled out efficiently and effectively.
I have to say that my late father and brother were my main political influences growing up. My father was a lifelong trade unionist and socialist. I was brought up to treat people with respect and to treat everyone equally. I have always been a student of history, particularly the history of Ireland, and this has certainly been one of the influences in formulating my political opinions.
How have you reached out to unionism since your election?
Working as a welfare rights advisor, I was fortunate enough to deal with all sections of the community. I was brought up to be tolerant of everyone’s beliefs and I hope that I have carried that through in my political life in dealing with unionists and all shades of political opinions in respecting their opinions and beliefs. A few months back, the local activists organised a Uniting Ireland conference in Newry and I was able to use my influence to invite Ulster Unionist John McCallister and others to be part of the panel.
What is unique about Newry and Armagh?
Newry and Armagh is unique in many ways. I myself come from the Ballybot area of Newry, which is one of the oldest parts of the city and has many unique features, not least the people who live there. In the Newry and Armagh constituency, we have a good balance of the urban and rural life.
We have the Gap of the North and the Ring of Gullion, all part of the Celtic stories and legends. We also have Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, but we also have a constituency that was systematically deprived over many years in terms of employment opportunities. Our people have always maintained their pride and dignity in the face of adversity. Community relations, particularly in Newry, in my experience have always been good and I think that Newry has always been recognised for its tolerance and innate humanity.
How do you spend your free time?
I enjoy music and in that respect I am very catholic in my tastes. I do enjoy traditional music particularly and used to try and play the mandolin at the odd session. I am also interested in sport. I played basketball, volleyball, Gaelic, soccer and hurling and I enjoy watching most sports. I am also an avid reader and I enjoy fictions and biographies etc. I enjoy relaxing with my family.