As Northern Ireland struggles to offer a coherent and unified contribution to the Brexit negotiations in the absence of an Executive, Dave Whelan talks to MEP Jim Nicholson about his role in bringing Northern Ireland’s precarious position to the attention of both Brussels and Westminster. By his own admission, the official triggering of Article 50...
In March, Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, was re-elected to the south Belfast constituency having first won the seat in 2016. A former UUP Westminster candidate, Bradshaw has spent her whole working life in various roles throughout the local community and prides herself on not being a typical politician.
Outline your background / career to date?
I have degrees in Business Studies and Law, and I have worked in south Belfast all my life. I started in retail and then moved on to work with the South Belfast Traders’ Association and then with all traders’ associations on the main arterial routes such as the Lisburn Road. I was appointed Director of the Greater Village Regeneration Trust in 2003. That was a huge opportunity to be involved in regeneration not just in terms of houses, but entire communities. There I saw at first hand the potential of apprenticeships, of local health promotion, of good modern housing, of re-imaging projects and of many other aspects of local policy delivery which can change people’s daily lives for the better.
What inspired you to get into politics?
My work was essentially about grassroots activism. I remain passionate about delivering on practical issues around health and skills to provide opportunities for people in the inner city, and I wanted to bring the directly relevant experiences from my work into the political arena.
I am not the typical politician. Engaging in all the intrigue that goes on around who is being appointed to what or who is standing where is not for me. I like to get practical things done at a local level, and I am never happier than when I am helping someone access essential services such as social care or bursaries for training.
Who do you admire in politics or public life?
My first role model was the late Mo Mowlam. I loved her practicality, and the way she introduced a human side to her role and to the whole peace process. I admired her courage too. I wish we had more like her now. Speaking of courageous women, I also had the opportunity to get to know well and work with my predecessor Anna Lo, which was a real highlight.
I also wish we had more Trimbles and Mallons around now – whatever their faults, they were people prepared to lead even where the initial direction was unpopular.
What drew you to the Alliance party?
I grew up in a mixed marriage, but like so many I was initially tempted to back Trimble or Hume (in my case, as I was working in a predominantly loyalist area, Trimble) when they came under pressure from the DUP and Sinn Fein in 2003. However, like thousands of other people, I reached the conclusion in the end if we want a cross-community government that is best done by an avowedly cross-community party, and that was Alliance.
I also reckoned Alliance was for me the best vehicle to promote my own liberal positions on social issues, and to influence others to do so in a culture of tolerance and respect.
“Engaging in all the intrigue that goes on around who is being appointed to what or who is standing where is not for me.”
What are your key priorities for your constituency?
I grew up in East Antrim but when I first found a flat and a job in south Belfast I felt very much at home because of the diversity of the constituency and the range of different activities available in it. My priority is to protect and promote that diversity as a driver of a high quality of life and of career and leisure opportunities for everyone who lives and works there.
It has to be said there is also diversity in terms of wealth and income. I am very concerned about ensuring investment in skills, reform of health and provision of other vital services is maintained and enhanced for everyone in the constituency, particularly in the more marginalised inner city areas.
My big concern in any constituency is the maintenance and development of a high-quality health and social care service free for all at point of access. We have to act to transform the Health and Social Care service in line with expert advice now, or frankly we will lose it. With the scale of waiting lists and the collapse of GP practices, I am very concerned we are approaching the time, imminently, where only those with means will be able to access adequate health services on time. That would drive people in my constituency, and elsewhere, even further apart.
What are your interests outside work?
I cannot deny I struggle, like so many others in my position, to balance family life with the temptations of various engagements and activities in the constituency. I do enjoy eating out and we always take at least one short break, within Northern Ireland, every year.
I do like travelling generally when I get the opportunity. Italy has for some time been my favourite destination for the people, weather and food.