Political Platform

The UUP’s Rosemary Barton was first elected to the Assembly for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 2016 having previously served on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. Prior to being a politician, Barton worked as a school teacher in both Kesh and Enniskillen.

Outline your career to date?

I grew up on the family farm in rural south Fermanagh the eldest of a family of three. From there I attended Newtownbutler Primary School and then transferred to the Collegiate Grammar School, Enniskillen and on to Bangor University in North Wales, where I studied mathematics and geography.

It was a very difficult period for the minority unionist population in the area and a number of very decent people lost their lives, mainly at the hands of the IRA. Mercifully, I had no immediate family members lost and I must say that despite everything going on we always got on very well with our Catholic neighbours.

Following graduation, I took up a teaching appointment in the Duke of Westminster, Kesh and eventually became Head of Department. I then transferred to the new amalgamated school of Devenish College in Enniskillen, where I took early retirement from in August 2011. During my teaching career I continued to study part-time, worked with the Schools Examining Boards and became active in the Ulster Teachers’ Union, becoming President in 2004/5.

Meanwhile I was selected to stand for the District Council Election and was elected in May 2011 to Fermanagh District Council, and then again in 2014 to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council to represent the Erne North Area where I now live. I was then elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in May 2016, where I was a member of the Education Committee, and again in March of this year. Presently, I hold the position as Education spokesperson for the Ulster Unionist Party.

What inspired you to get into politics?

An interest in politics was always something in the back of my mind, however, it was not until the early 2000s that I considered joining the UUP, the party my late father had been an active member of for many decades.

Growing up in the Troubles on the Fermanagh border I had an early introduction to political awareness and the daily political landscape. Radio and TV news bulletins were all part of my day-to-day life and especially the conversation that they generated during evening meal times. I have no doubt that my home environment and the daily reminder of the Troubles all contributed to my interest in politics. I also found the subject of history interesting but particularly enjoyed British history. Further, during my time as President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, I was lobbying Direct Rule ministers on behalf of the teaching profession which also whetted my appetite.

During my teaching career that interest in politics and the UUP was retained, but it was only a few years before retirement that I actually became active in politics.

Who do you admire in politics or public life?

I have no particular person who I could describe as a role model, however, I must admit I do admire the Queen. The diligent and efficient manner in which she carries out her duties. She is so well versed when meeting individuals and organisations and never appears to put a foot wrong.

I do however have huge respect for those in politics who actually work ‘on the ground’ among their electorate and deliver for them. While many of the bigger decisions have to be taken in Stormont or Westminster, I do believe supporting and helping the community in their many everyday issues is so important and it is these everyday achievements that one never hears about.

What drew you to the UUP?

Unfortunately witnessing distress and suffering growing up in county Fermanagh. UUP elected representatives appeared to be one of the few sources of solace and support many people had in their time of need and desperation. It was the party’s absolute commitment to law and order and the subsequent efforts to bring the brutal 30-year period of mayhem to an end that convinced me that it put the interests of Northern Ireland ahead of its own.

“It was the party’s absolute commitment to law and order and the subsequent efforts to bring the brutal 30-year period of mayhem to an end that convinced me that it put the interests of Northern Ireland ahead of its own.”

The party also incorporates a wide variety of unionist political opinion and thus I believe is in the best position to represent people. The UUP for me was a grass roots up party, thus ensuring all members had a say in decision making, from party elections to larger decisions that are voted on by the party Executive, which has representatives on it from each constituency.

What are your key priorities for your constituency?

I am committed firstly to getting the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running again because that was the mandate I was given from the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. This is the most westerly constituency in Northern Ireland and the least densely populated. Despite this, it is my priority that my constituents receive the same quality of a health service and education system as the rest of Northern Ireland.

There is a really serious problem in local patient waiting lists. There are also major pressures facing our GP practices, with some already closed and others on the brink of collapse. With the sheer distances that some day-patients are having to travel outside the constituency for consultations, I really believe that our health service must look at a means of attracting health care professionals towards the west and opening more day clinics in the South West Acute Hospital.

Being a predominantly rural constituency, broadband and mobile phone signal is also a huge problem in some parts. I just think it is unacceptable that in 2017 there are still some villages that can’t pick up a phone signal from any mobile network. Attracting new industry to the west must be priority for the next Executive, whenever the Assembly is reconvened. We have a brilliant local workforce but they have been let down by Stormont departments for too long. Fermanagh and South Tyrone is ripe territory for job creation.

What are your interests outside work?

I have to admit that with various engagements and activities in the constituency, my work-life/family-life balance is not good. However, on a Saturday if attending an informal function my daughter would sometimes accompany me. I do like to take at least two weekend breaks during the year, but I must admit I am not a sun and sand holiday person. I much prefer scenery and exploring historic towns and gardens.

As a treasure hunt fanatic I both enjoy taking part in these and writing them for different groups within the community. I enjoy reading, especially biographies, and try to read every night before going to bed. Occasionally late at night I may try to catch up on some TV documentary that I have missed but I am not a huge TV watcher, except for a period drama series like Downton Abbey.

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