Political platform

Fearghal McKinney is the recently elected deputy leader of the SDLP and MLA for South Belfast. The veteran journalist is also the party’s health spokesperson and sits on the committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. 

Outline your background/ career to date? 

I racked up somewhere in the region of thirty years’ experience in journalism working for the Impartial Reporter and Downtown radio before moving onto UTV as a news presenter.

I have been the SDLP MLA for South Belfast since September 2013. I am the SDLP spokesperson on Health and was elected Deputy Leader of the party on 14th November 2015.

During my times as health spokesperson I have spearheaded a campaign on cancer drugs; I have held a conference on the current and future care needs of our older population; and raised concerns over the status of the Transforming Your Care (TYC) plan.

What inspired you to get into politics? 

I have always had a keen interest in politics. Covering some of the pivotal moments in the troubles and then the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement were inspirational. One of the most poignant times I remember was covering the Omagh bombing which threatened to shatter the hopes and aspirations of the country following the Good Friday Agreement. Being MLA for South Belfast has been an absolute honour and I have relished my role as health spokesperson.

Who do you most admire in politics and public life?

The contribution Bill Clinton made to securing peace in Northern Ireland has been inspirational. His continued interest in the political process has been a great source of support at times when the institutions have faced crisis.

When Bill Clinton visited Northern Ireland in 1995 he signalled that this place was top of his foreign policy concerns. It was an extremely precarious time for this region and security threats were still very high. The risks Bill Clinton took for peace are something we are all indebted to him for. 

What do you enjoy the most about being an MLA and what do you find the most challenging? 

I enjoy being in my constituency and working to resolve concerns my constituents may have around education, housing and job opportunities. Being in touch with your constituents’ biggest concerns is crucial to representing them to the very best of your ability.

I think my role as health spokesperson for the SDLP has been challenging and very important too. Over the past two years we have witnessed a multitude of crises in A&E, hospital deaths, huge elective care and GP waits and 15 minute domiciliary care packages. We have seen financial crisis after financial crisis with successive DUP Health Ministers failing to get to grips with the difficulties. Our health staff are constantly being put under extreme and intolerable pressure. Unfortunately, the Minister and his department are trying to divert attention away from the TYC plan that was meant to provide a more streamlined service. I will be resisting this kind of policy direction for TYC.

How do you find your role on the committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment?

I have used my position on the ETI committee to promote greater investment in this region. Northern Ireland has a population of 1.8 million and less than half of them are economically active. In order to catch up with our neighbours in the South of Ireland and indeed across Europe we need to have at least one million people working if we are to build a prosperous society.

I also believe that if we are to tackle health inequalities within our society then we must address social deprivation and start providing people with job opportunities.

What are your key priorities for South Belfast? 

My key priorities for South Belfast are education, jobs and older people’s health and social care.

There are a number of excellent schools in South Belfast which provide an incredible experience for young people of various backgrounds and abilities.

These schools and staff in particular need our support to continue to deliver an educational experience which is second to none. I passionately believe that we need to arm young people with the skills set necessary to attract investors to this region and to produce high quality and good paying jobs.

I have many constituents contacting me daily who are waiting months for operations or consultations, who have waited over 12 hours at A&E at the Royal, and who cannot get to a GP on time. I hosted a major conference in South Belfast on Older People’s Healthcare in March of this year. It was attended by representatives from COPNI, RCN, the community and voluntary sector, independent care providers and individual patients.

How do you like to relax outside work?

When I get time to relax I like to play music, the tin whistle helps me to unwind. I have always been very passionate about music. I enjoy spending the weekend relaxing with my wife and three young daughters who I am extremely proud of.

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