Political perspectives

In the first of our series of interviews with Northern Ireland’s newly elected MPs, Adam Morton speaks to South Antrim’s Danny Kinahan MP, whose election in 2015 was part of the Ulster Unionists’ return to Westminster for the first time since 2010.

How did your interest in politics begin?

I like to think I was born with it, certainly I was born into it – my father was in politics and therefore my life as a young boy was filled with people coming round to discuss topical issues and my mother was always interested in the debate as well. Growing up, I adored current affairs and history and those are the two things, I think, that get you into politics.

I was always involved with the UUP at a local level and then when I got laid off by Christie’s, David Trimble and a few others rang me and said they needed a councillor. I was very lucky that I had the support of so many members of the party.

You have described yourself as progressive, can you expand on that?

I think I have had a lot of experience outside Northern Ireland, now that isn’t to say that those who haven’t had these experiences are less qualified, but I have seen and done things that have shaped my life and world views. These experiences allow me to have a slightly different angle on some events. Whether that’s healthy or not is for others to decide.

My mother brought me up to think outside the box. If I can approach something from a slightly different angle that I feel will produce better results, I will certainly try it. As an example, as a local councillor, I had to attend planning meetings, it used to be that I would have to attend one meeting for the applicants and another for the objectors. I looked at the way the planning system works and got everyone involved in the process to sit down round the table to try and find the compromise. I think the job is not to take sides but to try and find a solution. I try the same style of approach to tackle all issues, I try to get the people involved to understand where the other side are coming from and keep everyone’s feet on the ground.

Has your background in the army influenced your approach to politics?

Certainly, my time in the army taught me various things. After training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst I was in the army for eight years. During that time I rose to the rank of Captain and I have served in the Falklands, Cyprus, Germany, Northern Ireland and Windsor. The army taught me numerous things including to be as organised and well prepared as I could be, to know all I could beforehand, to not stop until a task is done but above all it taught me to always work and look after my fellow soldiers and colleagues. If you take these lessons through to politics, it’s looking after everyone and working with everyone. That’s the essence of the job, it’s about serving people and going to work for everyone.

What do you hope to achieve for South Antrim during this parliamentary term?

I have set myself four tasks, the most significant of which is to try to get business thriving in South Antrim. Helping small businesses secure the necessary support and investment and helping big businesses like Belfast International Airport and trying to bring more jobs into South Antrim. Another of my goals is to go to Westminster and help to hold the Union together, not just from our own Northern Irish perspective but also working together and with the Republic of Ireland so that the Union benefits everybody. I also want to put pressure on Westminster to get Stormont working because an effective devolved government in Northern Ireland will benefit South Antrim.

Another of my goals is to get the Military Covenant working properly for soldiers in Northern Ireland to ensure they are properly looked after. Of course, having said that, you then arrive at Westminster and everything is thrown at you. At every meeting I am involved in I will look to see how it can help South Antrim and Northern Ireland as a whole. I also have an interest in bees and am hoping to set up an All Party Group to make sure we keep looking after them as their survival is very important.

Please outline your main priorities on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee?

My priorities within the committee are similar to those outlined above, but within the committee I really want to push to try to find a way forward to get everyone around the table discussing things. In private we have been able to have good open discussions from all angles to try to see how we could get better government in Northern Ireland. I also want to remain focused on my four main parliamentary aims.

What, in your view, needs to be done to get the Stormont Executive functioning as it should?

We have to all sit down together to talk and focus on how we can get a strong and stable devolved government that works better. To achieve this I think that everybody, including the two main parties in the Executive, will need to start giving. The situation needs people to come in to meetings and be ready to give ground to reach a compromise. We need to work to establish a devolved government that will work for the people of Northern Ireland.

Voting in support of equal marriage in Stormont shortly before the Westminster election was a risky move, was it one you felt you had to take?

Yes, it’s one I believed in totally. During my time in the army a colleague of mine was forced to leave because of his sexual preference, and ever since that, I believed that I would have to stick up for people.

I want a society in Northern Ireland where no one is made to feel second class and I knew that when choosing to support that motion it was make or break. I know I lost votes because of my stance but I’m sure I received a large amount of support as well.

What motivates you?

I hate seeing things going wrong, whenever that happens I always want to get in there and help. I don’t hold back and I’m determined to help those who need my help. Knowing I’ve made a positive difference is what drives me.

How do you switch off?

To wind down I enjoy listening to music. I love listening to lots of different genres from popular music from my generation to rock, classical and jazz music. I also enjoy doing cryptic crosswords, they force my brain to think in a different direction and I have a lovely place to look after (Castle Upton, where Danny has lived since he was five) and I enjoy taking long walks in the woods.


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