Recently co-opted to replace Alliance leader Naomi Long at Stormont following her elevation to the European Parliament, former councillor and deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Marie Hendron is a former teacher, long-time friend of Mary Peters and wife of one of the Alliance Party’s founding members.
Outline your background/career to date
I was born into a farming family and spent my childhood in Cloughmills, County Antrim. At the age of 10 I went to a convent boarding school in Lisburn where I received my secondary education. From there I attended the Domestic Science College which was then housed in Belfast College of Technology.
My teaching career began in the Assumption College in Ballynahinch. I took a break from teaching to spend time with my three children and returned when they were all of school age. In 1995 I retired from my teaching career as Head of the Home Economics Department of Rathmore Grammar School.
In the Local Government Election of 2005, I was persuaded to run as a candidate for the Electoral District of Pottinger, where I live. I had a very outside chance of success but against all the odds I won the seat. As a completely unknown councillor and as someone who had little knowledge of how local government worked, I had to work hard to get a grasp of council business and to gain the confidence of my constituents. My efforts were repaid in the 2011 election when I topped the poll in Pottinger, the first non-Unionist to do so. In the 2015 election I lost the seat (the name of which had been changed to Titanic). In my final year on Belfast City Council I served as deputy Lord Mayor, which I considered a great honour.
What inspired you to get into politics?
I lived in a village where for the most part everyone lived peacefully together. My parents were not in any way political but growing up in Belfast among students from a variety of backgrounds, I became aware of the divisions in our society. When I married my husband Jim, we used to discuss the political situation with friends of differing backgrounds. We used to say if we got a number of like-minded Protestants and Catholics together, we could form a cross community party. Little did we know the path which lay ahead.
Who do you admire in politics or public life/political role models?
The qualities which I admire in people are honesty and integrity along with the optimism to stay the course however difficult it may be. Mary Peters was in my class in college and is a good friend. The encouragement she has given to so many young people in Northern Ireland in the field of sport is amazing.
I also admire Naomi Long, the leader of the Alliance Party. Her commitment to the party and her ability to communicate are unrivalled. But the person I really admire in politics is my husband, Jim, who with 15 others had the foresight to launch the Alliance Party almost half a century ago. Apart from being elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1975-76 and running as a candidate in the 1997 Westminster election, he did not seek political position.
As a former teacher who represented one of the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland, I am aware of the need to encourage young people into education.
During all of those years his enthusiasm never wavered and he continues to play an active role in the party as an advisor and committee member. He is an inspiration to so many of the members, young and old, who treat him with the respect he deserves.
What drew you to the Alliance Party?
As I indicated above, belonging to a political party which was cross-community was an aspiration we had but which at a time had seemed an impossible dream. On Tuesday 21 April, 1970 that dream became a reality.
A priority for the new party was to end sectarianism in Northern Ireland and to create a society where we could all live together respecting each other and each other’s differences. The Alliance Party has not fully achieved that goal but continues to work tirelessly toward it.
What are your key priorities in your constituency/what are the key issues facing your constituency?
The issues which are common to all of Northern Ireland and which are not being addressed because of the absence of an Assembly are to be seen in east Belfast.
It is a diverse constituency. There are social and economic differences which include health, educational and employment issues which need to be addressed. As a former teacher who represented one of the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland, I am aware of the need to encourage young people into education. Good work is being done by schools and various organisations in the area but they require funding, support and encouragement from their politicians.
What are your interests outside work?
In the past I enjoyed travelling to new and exciting places. I was fortunate to visit far-flung places like China, New Zealand and Australia, Russia, Canada and America. Today I am very content exploring the many beautiful places which our own country has to offer.
My family, none of whom now live in Northern Ireland, is a great source of pleasure. I enjoy spending time with my 10 grandchildren, who are all at interesting stages. I garden, read when I get the chance and I love watching a good film, preferably in the cinema.