Deborah Erskine is the new DUP Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA. Co-opted to replace Arlene Foster, Erskine is a one-time journalist who ranks the former First Minister as her inspiration for her involvement in politics.
Outline your background / career to date
I am the daughter of a Church of Ireland Minister and I must say, I certainly didn’t ever expect that I would go down the political route in life. As a very young teenager I was set on becoming a journalist.
I studied Journalism with English at Ulster University at Coleraine. It was a great place to study and I met so many people, some are in the Assembly Chamber today too! Fortunately for me, I landed on my feet and within days of finishing my last exam I went straight into the world of work at North West Newsgroup, working as a journalist for the Ulster Herald and Tyrone Herald.
That time was really formative for me and whilst I loved working as a journalist, the pull of politics was strong and so I moved to a job working in the DUP Press Office in 2016.
Elected as a councillor in 2019 for Erne North on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, I started working for Arlene Foster in her constituency office just before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
What inspired you to get into politics?
Is it alright to confess I was a political nerd at school? I have to say I have always enjoyed politics and even as a teenager, I absorbed election nights and the coverage. My dad was a history and politics student and we would have lots of discussions about Stormont and Westminster. That foundation became much stronger at university, through discussions with friends and indeed getting involved in the DUP Young Democrats during that time.
I have always believed that there are better days ahead for Northern Ireland. I’m proud to have been born and raised here. To have people who believe in Northern Ireland and want it to do well, on the global stage have a role to play in politics. It’s about making the lives of ordinary people better and I want to step up and do something about that.
Who do you admire in politics or public life?
Arlene Foster is definitely the reason why I got so heavily involved in politics. I have admired her and how she never forgot her background, had the best interests of Northern Ireland and Fermanagh and South Tyrone always at the forefront of her political life. Arlene always had time for people and wanted to help them despite the busy life of being DUP Leader and First Minister. She put in many hard, long hours to make Northern Ireland work.
Also, I am always intrigued by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Their style of leadership in the role of Prime Minister, during some turbulent and challenging times is so interesting.
I must admit I love to see good women role models in politics. As someone once said, “you can only be what you can see”, and I think for young women, it’s important to let them see that this world is open to them. I think it would be wonderful to see more women get involved in shaping Northern Ireland.
What drew you to the DUP?
The Party’s desire to see Northern Ireland grow and excel was a key attraction which drew me towards the DUP. On the ground there are hard working DUP representatives who have a shared desire to improve life for people in Northern Ireland. I saw in my own area, people who were passionate about the Union and Northern Ireland’s place within it. The DUP want to deal with the bread and butter matters that affect people in their daily lives whether that is hospitals, our roads, more and better jobs, so I really want to play a part in delivering on those matters.
What are your key priorities for your constituency / what are the key issues facing your constituency?
For me the main issues I want to get to grips with are the poor state of our roads infrastructure, improving our connectivity and tackling issues in our health service.
As someone that drives to Belfast, I see first-hand some of the road inequalities rural areas have to suffer. I want to see the Enniskillen Southern Bypass happen. It will improve congestion, easing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and will help aid the economy.
“For young women, it’s important to let them see that this world is open to them.”
Fermanagh and South Tyrone is playing catch up in terms of broadband and indeed mobile phone coverage. It is one of the worst regions in terms of the UK for connectivity. Once we unlock roads and broadband issues, which have more on the table for investment and jobs in my area.
Lastly, you cannot have lived through the pandemic, without worries regarding our health system. The time of lip service to deal with the issues is over. We need solutions to the problems and we need to deal with it. There are lives behind each and every statistic that we read about, nobody is immune. Sometimes people forget that politicians have family on waiting lists too. It affects us every bit as much. I will be working on the health committee to alleviate the problems.
What are your interests outside work?
I have a very patient husband who knows work is 24/7 for me but I love getting to spend time in the outdoors (away from phone signal for a while!). We have a Labrador called Maisie and we love to get to forests near us for a walk with her. In the summer we were in the Mournes and to be in the outdoors just restores your soul – to get away, clear the head and enjoy some time away from it all. Plus the feeling you get from climbing a mountain is just so exhilarating.
Family is very important to me so any time I can get to spend time with them is time well spent.