Rachel Woods is the Green Party MLA for North Down, having replaced former party leader Steven Agnew in the Assembly in November 2019. She is a trained researcher and served on Ards and North Down Borough Council before becoming a Member of the Legislative Assembly.
Outline your background/career to date
I’m from Holywood and still live in the town. I went to school at Sullivan Upper and studied at Queen’s University. I did a master’s at QUB on Terrorism, Violence and Security. I then went to work for the Financial Times in Belfast as a Research Associate for Analyse Africa.
I worked in Stormont for Steven Agnew MLA for a time and became a councillor in 2019. I was co-opted as MLA for North Down in November 2019.
I have worked in the hospitality industry as a waitress and bar staff while I was studying and in the early part of my career.
What inspired you to get into politics?
Politics was always a kitchen table conversation in our home as I grew up. I spent a while shouting at the television before I took the plunge into politics with the Green Party.
I was inspired by Professor John Barry. I took some classes with John and he stirred my interest in our unsustainable economic, political and social practices. I volunteered with the Green Party NI after I completed my master’s and became involved with the North Down Greens. I campaigned for Remain during the EU referendum in 2016 and helped in too many elections campaigns in too short a period of time!
I have always been motivated by a desire to help people and providing representation for people that might not feel that they have a say. I also believe that green politics is about providing an alternative to the hamster wheel of conflict and disagreement. The ceasefire babies deserve better than that, particularly given the emerging challenges of Covid-19.
Who do you admire in politics or public life / political role models?
Growing up, I admired Mo Mowlam and her contribution to the peace process. More recently I have gained massive respect for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her vision for a society that doesn’t leave people behind. I also admire the work of David Lammy as a Labour back bench MP.
What drew you to the Green Party?
I was and still am drawn to the Green Party’s vision for the promotion of social and climate justice as interconnected issues. The just transition to a low carbon economy should leave no community behind. That’s why environmentalism is about healthier, happier communities and people as well as places. I also love that the Green Party NI feel like extended family to me now.
What are your key priorities for your constituency?
North Down has been impacted by Covid-19 like everywhere else. The challenges are complex – economic, social, environmental and political. I’ve been working with people on a huge mix of issues created or exacerbated by the pandemic and there has been much despair around people’s health, their wellbeing and financial future.
We are facing a triple threat of climate breakdown, Covid-19 and Brexit. If we think that Covid was a wrecking ball, climate breakdown will do much worse. Brexit, similarly, will bring about big challenges and change, as now acknowledged by those who had previously advocated for the UK to leave the EU. However, I also feel that we are really well placed to build back better in my constituency. The people of North Down have a well-earned reputation for thinking outside the box and for resilience.
Green politicians have represented the area for some time now, so I believe there is a mind-set around making the shift towards a fairer, more sustainable society. I’m also keen to bust the myths of all of North Down as the Gold Coast of Northern Ireland. Yes, some areas are wealthy beyond most of our imagination but that’s not the case across the board. Many areas see high levels of economic deprivation and high levels of unemployment. I’m motivated to ensure that these people aren’t forgotten about and aren’t left behind.
In terms of specific local issues, there needs to be progress on the sustainable redevelopment of Queen’s Parade, Bangor. The future of the town for local people and residents depends on getting this right and getting local people on board after so many false dawns. I am also committed to sustainable infrastructure for the constituency – that means promoting greenways and active travel solutions such as cycling and walking. It means ensuing that our outdoor green spaces are free from litter and that they are safe and accessible.
What are your interests outside work?
I love to cook and eat and drink! I also enjoy playing football and recently helped set up Holywood ladies football team. We are on the lookout for new players by the way! Spending time with my family is really important to me. I also love taking a walk in Redburn or the North Down coastal path.