Cara Hunter is an MLA for East Derry and the SDLP’s health and mental health spokesperson. She was co-opted to the Assembly in 2020 following the death of party colleague John Dallat.
Outline your background / career to date
I studied journalism in California State University then later transferred to Liverpool John Moores University. I graduated in July 2017, and joined politics in 2018, where I began a campaign to gain a seat in the Derg district electoral area (DEA) in the Derry and Strabane District Council to improve rural access to mental health services.
From May 2019 to 2020, I was Deputy Mayor of the Council and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was an incredible experience to engage with so many community groups, charities and sectors right across society. I gained a real insight into a number of topics, especially surrounding LGBT+ health issues, discrimination of minorities in the wider north west and legacy issues.
I stood in the 2019 Westminster election in East Derry. I have sat on the Assembly’s Health Committee since December 2020 and I am also the SDLP’s Health and Mental Health spokesperson.
What inspired you to get into politics?
I lost someone close to me to suicide and I really wanted to make a change.
I felt like the collapse of Stormont was awful and there was a real lack of urgency around accessibility of mental health services.
Initially, I was disappointed and disillusioned by Northern Irish politics, but now I feel inspired to do all I can to try and positively change it. Witnessing how poverty and austerity has impacted our communities here in the North is shocking and I hope to do all I can to tackle it. I’ve seen first-hand how it has impacted the wellbeing of people across the North.
Recently with Covid-19 and speaking to young people, I have seen how hard communities have been hit with a lack of income and opportunities, many have voiced they cannot wait to leave here, they view Northern Ireland as ‘backwards’. I hope to try and encourage young people to stay here through investment in apprenticeships, easier access to higher education and more, instead of moving to England or Australia to find opportunities.
Who do you admire in politics or public life/political role models?
I really admire Claire Hanna and Nichola Mallon and their ability to balance motherhood with being a politician in a very complex political landscape. I find them very motivating and inspiring.
What drew you to the SDLP?
I liked that their concept of a New Ireland was inclusive of all traditions and communities. That the future of the island seeks to bring people together, when previous approaches by others was built around pillars of polarised politics. I found the SDLP history fascinating as it was built on civil rights and its commitment and work on bringing about peace in Northern Ireland which led to the Good Friday Agreement. I also know the SDLP is a party committed to social justice and a fairer society for all, it aligns with my politics and beliefs.
What are your key priorities for your constituency/what are the key issues facing your constituency?
There are a number of issues facing my constituency of East Derry including unemployment and a lack of social housing. I see these issues daily in my constituency office and I am keen to help alleviate these problems. Investment in the constituency and small towns within it are key to its economic success. Broadband issues are something I am keen to resolve. I have witnessed the impact of digital inequality due to limited signal in rural areas. This lack of connectivity can limit educational opportunities and the growth and expansion of businesses in rural areas. My colleagues and I continue to lobby for improvement of the digital infrastructure in the greater north west.
“Initially I was disappointed and disillusioned by Northern Irish politics, but now I feel inspired to do all I can to try and positively change it.”
Since March 2021, many of our small businesses have suffered greatly during the pandemic and helping them recover as we emerge from lockdown and restrictions is where we must start. Working with my party colleague, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon MLA, I am keen to see improved transport links across the constituency too. I believe that this will go some way to improving the economic picture within the area. With the birth of the ‘staycation’ movement last summer, East Derry also has so much to offer especially to visitors and tourists with its many beauty spots and seaside resorts. I hope to do everything I can to promote the area even more as a fantastic destination.
I am a strong advocate for mental health services, especially for our children and young people. This is something which I am passionate about and I am determined to use my role as an MLA and my party’s spokesperson on mental health to ensure improved services and access to care. This includes within our schools, local communities and the health service itself.
What are your interests outside work?
I love weightlifting. I picked up the habit before lockdown kicked in. I miss it terribly, I found it really good for both the mind and the body. It’s been a great way to socialise safely too during this time.
I also love reading books on Irish history, politics and spiritualism.