Political Platform: Danny Donnelly MLA
Former healthcare worker and now East Antrim MLA for the Alliance Party Danny Donnelly holds Aneurin Bevan, the Labour MP that founded the NHS in 1948 up as a political role model, and says that the current absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly is preventing him and colleagues from making real change and helping to improve people’s lives.
Outline your background/career to date
I was elected as an Alliance MLA for East Antrim in May 2022. Before that, I was working as a registered nurse in the Ulster Hospital, and I was also a councillor on Mid and East Antrim Council. I enjoyed my time in council and it gave me a real taste for helping people through politics. While there were many things we did in council that I am very proud of, the one that stands out was ensuring that all large-scale council events and events funded by council must have a Changing Places standard toilet available for people with additional needs. Improving accessibility to public spaces and public events is something I am passionate about. Since being elected in May 2022, unfortunately, I have not been able to do the full job of an MLA, but I hope that sense will prevail and that the Assembly will be back up and running soon.
What inspired you to get into politics?
I have always had an interest in current affairs and politics but not of the unionist/nationalist variety. It was mostly environmental issues that got me actively involved. Fracking was being mooted in the East Antrim area and I was very concerned that this would have a terrible impact on our local environment, wildlife, and even water supply. I met up with similarly minded people and joined the local Green Party group. I stood for election and got a taste for elective politics. A local Alliance Party councillor John Matthews attended a screening of the film Gasland that I had put on in Larne. He shared my concerns for the area and encouraged me to consider joining the Alliance Party. I am not driven by any national identity politics or a particular ideology, but I do see politics as a way of being able to make real changes and help improve people’s lives.
Who do you admire in politics or public life/political role models?
There are many achievements by politicians from across different parties that have positively impacted people’s lives here in Northern Ireland and across the UK that I have admired but my political hero is Aneurin Bevan, the Labour MP that founded the NHS in 1948. His belief that healthcare should be available to all regardless of wealth is the principle of equality in action and was the foundation of an incredible institution that can be depended on by everyone to deliver care from the cradle to the grave. As a nurse, I am incredibly proud to work in a system of universal healthcare, and politically, I am committed to this principle. Nye Bevan improved millions of people’s lives over generations and showed what politics is capable of achieving.
More locally, I have huge admiration for the civil rights leaders here in the 1960s, those who worked for peace in Northern Ireland, sometimes at great personal risk to themselves, and the politicians that stretched themselves to ensure the Good Friday Agreement delivered peace in 1998. The Northern Ireland we live in now is a living legacy to all their achievements.
What drew you to the Alliance Party?
The party’s environmental policies, and particularly the work of former MLA Anna Lo on a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act, and the moratorium on fracking in Northern Ireland. The Alliance Party is committed to improving the environment and its Green New Deal policies are a strong way forward for Northern Ireland to play its part in mitigating the worst aspects of climate change.
My wife and I are strong supporters of integrated education, and this has long been a key plank of Alliance Party policy. We are very thankful that we were able to send our children to an integrated primary school in Larne. It is great to see more and more schools transforming to integrated status and I hope that we can get to a place where all schools are just schools.
What are your key priorities for your constituency/what are the key issues facing your constituency?
I have lived in Larne most of my life and it is a great place to live and bring up a family. We have so much stunning scenery in East Antrim – the beaches around Islandmagee, the Antrim Coast Road, and the Glens of Antrim to name a few. I am committed to protecting our natural environment and wildlife in and around it. I am strongly opposed to any further fossil fuel exploration, and I believe that we can use the abundance of natural resources on our doorstep to generate clean energy.
Like everywhere else there are some serious challenges: lack of housing, issues with access to services in rural areas, and increasing rates of people struggling with the costs of living. I have established a constituency service at my office in Larne to provide assistance to people who come to me with an issue, and I run regular pop-up constituency clinics across the area to try to be as accessible to as many constituents as possible.
What are your interests outside work?
I am a big music fan and I love nothing better than a live gig. We have a huge amount of musical talent in Northern Ireland and one of the things I look forward to every summer is Stendhal Festival in Limavady. Three days of amazing music, culture, comedy, and craic, from mostly local artists and performers. I also enjoy reading when I get time. I am currently reading Colin Bateman’s recent book – Thunder and Lightning: A Memoir of Life on the Tough Cul-De-Sacs of Bangor – and laughing out loud every few pages, which must look odd on the train.