Political Platform

Recently elected in March 2017 to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the unionist stronghold of Lagan Valley, SDLP MLA Pat Catney served two terms on Lisburn City Council. A retired businessman, he is well known for his various positions in the hospitality sector, including former owner of the Kitchen Bar in Belfast.

Outline your background and career to date

I was born in Moira, County Down where from an early age I was involved in the hospitality industry. I was employed as an apprentice barman in the Four Trees in Moira, under the tutelage of Paddy Swail.

Quite young I bought the Liverpool Bar on Donegall Quay in Belfast. It was the start of my time as a pub landlord. In my early 30s I acquired the Kitchen Bar in Belfast city centre. At the time there were only two families who lived inside the security cordon around the urban centre – the caretaker of the Masonic Lodge and his family, and my parents, Mr and Mrs Catney, who lived above the Kitchen Bar.

When I first bought the Kitchen there was only a gents’ toilet, like many of the old pubs of Belfast, so getting a ladies’ was one of my first priorities.

The Kitchen became famous for Paddy’s Pizzas, which started off by accident. Justice John Fife was a regular customer of ours. One day he came in for lunch and we had run out of bread. My Mother offered him a grilled sandwich of tomato, ham, onion and Coleraine cheddar on soda bread and so Paddy’s Pizzas were born.

What inspired you to get into politics?

I’ve always been a people person.
I enjoyed serving the hundreds of customers I got to know over the years. The Kitchen Bar relied upon people of all backgrounds and ages coming through the door as regular customers. I was immensely proud that there were people across the city who made a point of travelling in to the Kitchen Bar, which was a neutral and positive space in the heart of the city.

Life has been good to me and I’ve always felt the need to give back. When I retired from the hospitality industry I volunteered in St Patrick’s Hall in Lisburn, helping to run the many events that take place there throughout the week and support the local groups that use the hall.

I was also inspired by the work of John Hume and others in securing the Good Friday Agreement. I wanted my children’s generation to grow up in peace, with the opportunity to succeed and go further than my generation could ever imagine.

Getting involved in politics was a natural progression of all of that. I wanted to do my best to help people in my local area, who didn’t always feel represented or respected, without setting out to offend or hurt anyone in the process. When I was elected, I talked about the need for all MLAs to work for one community – everyone in Northern Ireland. I still believe that is the most important principle for us all to hold ourselves too.

Who do you admire in politics and who are your role models?

Martin Luther King and John Hume were very early influences on my political views. Their campaigns for civil rights opened up my narrow world and showed me that there’s a place where no-one’s children are discriminated against. They gave me hope that could build a society here that was based on respect and co-operation.

I had the privilege of meeting Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, President Kennedy’s sister, when she was based in Ireland. She often visited the Kitchen Bar when she was in Belfast during the peace process. She spent her time in the bar talking to the local customers about their needs and concerns during the process. She was very much a people person and was deeply interested in the ordinary needs of people here, who so desperately wanted peace.

What drew you to the SDLP?

Frank Feely was the first candidate I remember canvassing for from the SDLP, way back in the 1970s and 1980s. Frank at that time was part of the team around Eddie McGrady who were taking on Enoch Powell in South Down. Frank was a formidable councillor and Assembly member back in the Sunningdale days.

“I was also inspired by the work of John Hume and others in securing the Good Friday Agreement. I wanted my children’s generation to grow up in peace, with the opportunity to succeed and go further than my generation could ever imagine.”

What are your key priorities for your constituency?

First and foremost, we need to get the Assembly up and running. People turned out in the highest numbers since the Good Friday Agreement in the last election. Their commitment to the democratic process must be honoured – every MLA has a duty to work together to get Stormont working.

Without a functioning Assembly and Executive we are seeing automatic cutbacks in core services which affect people’s everyday lives. That is not acceptable, especially when the public elected us to do our job.

In the face of Brexit, and the possibility of a hard Brexit we also need to ensure that Northern Ireland’s best interests are remembered in the upcoming negotiations. Special status must be on the table, to protect our access to the four freedoms of the single market and prevent a hard border on the island. I’ve been incredibly proud of the work done by my party leader, Colum Eastwood MLA and by Alasdair McDonnell and Claire Hanna MLA to secure special status.

What are your interests outside work?

I’m a big family man. I love to spend time with my family, including my granddaughter Emily. Myself and Rosemary are becoming grandparents for a second time later this year, and we’re both very excited. I follow Down GAA passionately and I enjoy going to matches with my friends and family. Rosemary and I enjoy travelling and with two of my children abroad, we have plenty of reason to visit them.

Related Posts