Cathal Boylan is a Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh. He was elected to the Assembly in 2007 and was also a councillor for Crossmore on Armagh City and District Council (2005-2008). Cathal is his party’s environment spokesman and also sits on the Assembly Standards and Privileges Committee. His jobs before entering politics included work as a panel beater, construction worker and postman.
Where did your interest in politics begin?
I have had an interest in politics from a young age. My father would have been politically interested and the key issues of the day and current affairs would always have been a source of discussion and debate around the dinner table with my parents and older siblings.
I suppose, however, as was the case for many young republicans of the time, the events surrounding the blanket protests and hunger strikes in Long Kesh were the catalyst to a more active participation in politics.
Details of the conditions in which the prisoners were being detained resonated within our community and crystallised in many, including myself, a desire to do something to assist. Although now in quite different circumstances, it is that same desire to help others which continues to be my main source of political motivation.
What are your priorities in Newry and Armagh before the next election?
Our constituency is wide and diverse with different issues affecting different parts. For me, however, employment and economic growth are the main stand out priorities. Recent economic conditions have been testing on both our rural and urban communities in terms of employment opportunities. This has contributed extensively to migration and displacement, especially among young people, away from parts of the constituency in search of work.
It is vital therefore that we try and concentrate on job creation to help provide people with an opportunity to source quality employment prospects within the area.
Whilst inward investment undoubtedly has an important part to play in creating such opportunity, I also feel strongly that the development and growth of our own indigenous business offers an equally important and perhaps more sustainable source of long-term development. A great deal of my focus therefore is upon trying to identify and tackle obstacles which hinder our small and medium-sized businesses and prevent them from realising their full potential.
On planning, what further reforms do you want to see in the system?
I think it imperative that we now need to be addressing the practicalities involved with the devolution of planning to local government, due to occur by 2015. The devolution of planning will provide the opportunity for the creation of local development plans and facilitate planning decisions being made at local level.
Whilst this should be a very positive development, putting the needs of local communities at the heart of the planning process, we cannot underestimate the challenges which it will also present. In particular, those elected representatives who will be charged with this responsibility, for the first time, face an immediate test of capacity and knowledge building. We now need to be considering this from a training needs perspective. Those carrying out the new functions will need to be fully aware of the intricacies and complexities within the planning regime.
What do you see as your main achievement to date as an MLA?
I am extremely proud of the number of people that I have been able to assist through our local constituency office and advice centre in Armagh City. On average, we deal with between 30-40 cases per week covering a wide variety of issues ranging from housing and planning matters to employment disputes and welfare issues. Whilst it is, of course, not always possible to achieve the
specific outcome sought by a particular individual on a particular matter, I always do my best to fully understand each matter from the individual’s perspective and to assist those people in so far as I am able.
How have you sought to reach out to unionism in your constituency?
I have as an MLA, and before that as a local councillor, worked closely with my unionist counterparts on many projects and attended many cross-community events and initiatives. For the greatest part, those engagements have been very successful. I have a respectful, open, honest and professional approach to dealing with people of all backgrounds and political ideologies.
Everyone is entitled to an outlook on life and politics, and I treat everyone with fairness so long as they are willing to show the same courtesy to others.
My constituency office deals with enquiries and requests from people of a unionist persuasion on a very regular basis. We treat every individual and case to the best of our ability irrespective of political background. That having been said, I think that there is scope for improvement. I believe that it is incumbent on all public representatives and community leaders to show leadership in reducing barriers to our shared future.
What are your main interests outside work?
Away from work, when I get the chance, I have an interest in a variety of sports. In particular, I follow GAA as well as keeping a close eye on the fortunes of Manchester United and Ireland in soccer.
I also have an interest in angling, golf and international rugby tournaments when they are on. I try to fit a walk in most nights after work and I enjoy the company of my family and friends for the occasional pint at the weekend or trip to the cinema.