Sinn Féin’s Pat Doherty was elected MLA for West Tyrone in 1998 and has served as the constituency’s MP since 2001. Born in Glasgow, his home county is Donegal. His contested the Republic’s Connaught-Ulster European election constituency in 1989 and 1994 and sought election to Dáil Éireann in Donegal North East, in 1996 and 1997. In the 1996 Forum election, he was one of Sinn Féin’s two ‘top-up’ representatives. Pat served as the party’s Vice-President from 1988 to 2009.
How did you get started in politics?
The events of 1969 in the Six Counties had a deep and profound effect on me politically. The attempted suppression of the civil rights movement and the turn of events following the arrival of British soldiers on the streets of Derry and Belfast motivated me, like thousands of others, to become actively involved to bring about fundamental change on this island and I joined Sinn Féin in April 1970.
What are the rewarding aspects of your role and what are the more difficult parts?
My role as a Sinn Féin MP MLA is wide ranging and varied, and you have to be able to keep many different balls in the air at the same time in terms of constituency, Assembly, national and international work.
While the wide remit of this work is challenging it is nonetheless rewarding particularly when you can see the fruits of that labour achieving results whether that be sorting out the everyday issues of constituents, delivering and making progress on issues of strategic importance to West Tyrone or progressing wider economic, social and political issues of importance at an Assembly and national level.
One of the most difficult and frustrating aspects I encounter in my role is dealing with, what I believe to be, unnecessary levels of red tape and bureaucracy that are often placed in the way of attempting to get what should be a straightforward issue sorted out with certain departmental bodies and statutory agencies.
Things have improved in this respect somewhat since the re-establishment of the institutions but more progress needs to be made to ensure more efficient delivery for people on the ground.
Personally, what would you like to achieve for West Tyrone by the next election?
I, along with other Sinn Féin representatives west of the Bann and the border counties, spearheaded the campaign for a dual carriageway to be developed along the main A5 strategic transport corridor between Derry and Aughnacloy. We view this development as an infrastructural imperative so as to ensure that this region of Ireland can compete on an equal economic basis with all other regions of Ireland.
This represents the biggest ever infrastructural investment west of the Bann and there will be many direct and indirect benefits accruing from this – not least the creation of 2,000 jobs. The preferred route for the dual carriageway has now been announced and with construction envisaged to commence in 2012 the priority now is to ensure that the concerns of homeowners and landowners who will be directly impacted upon along the route are listened to and addressed.
‘Opportunity Omagh’ is without doubt the most ambitious and largest job creation projects to emerge west of the Bann in recent years and I along with other local Sinn Fein representatives will continue to work alongside all key stakeholders to ensure the project earmarked for the Derry Road is now brought to fruition. With an envisaged 1,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs upon completion this remains a major priority of my work.
I have been lobbying exhaustively to progress plans for a shared education village campus at Lisanelly. This is an unprecedented project and not only enshrines the principle of a shared future but will also offer huge pedagogic benefits to our children i.e. enable schools to deliver on the entitlement framework and offer children a broad and specialised curriculum to prepare them for their place in an ever-changing world.
The shortage of Invest NI land in Strabane has been one of the main obstacles standing in the way of new investment/business expansion in the district but we have now secured major progress on this issue with DETI and Invest NI now designating the acquisition of additional land in the district as a “strategic priority” and plans to acquire additional land now are now at an advanced stage.
The regeneration of Strabane town centre is also a major focus of my work and I have been working in a co-ordinated way along with private investors, government departments and agencies and the planning service to ensure the delivery of planned projects including a new 27-room hotel at Abercorn Square and a substantial development at the old Smiths Mill site.
Following intensive lobbying of the Department of Social Development, I am awaiting an announcement in relation to outstanding funding for the construction of a community bridge across the River Mourne.
How would Irish unity benefit your constituency?
The current economic crisis demonstrates in a major way the folly of attempting to govern this small island on the basis of partition. It warps our economy and hampers our ability to democratically manage our affairs. Two separate currencies, two separate tax regimes, two separate administrations, two separate sets of public services on an island of just under six million people makes no sense.
It leads to duplication, distortion and dysfunction. At present currency, tax and commercial differentials mean that trade in the border counties such as our neighbour Donegal is suffering badly. In the past the same differentials have led to a flow in the opposite direction with trade and commerce in areas such as this constituency suffering. That turnaround will happen again with the ebb and flow constantly eroding the ability of the entire country to develop in a sustainable way.
For Sinn Féin, Irish unity is not only a democratic imperative but is also an economic imperative for not only West Tyrone but for the entire island.
Although you abstain from Westminster, what does being an MP mean to you?
Since 2001, the electorate of West Tyrone have shown, through the election and re-election of me as their MP, their support for not only Sinn Fein’s abstensionist policy from Westminster but also for Sinn Féin’s analysis about the political, social and economic benefits of Irish unity and the strategy to secure this political outcome. Through my republican agenda of work I am proud to be able reflect this mandate.
Getting positive results for constituents, whether that be on individual issues or on issues of wider impact on the community, is obviously the bread and butter of an MP and it is an encouraging sign that increasingly unionist constituents are contacting me seeking assistance and representations on a wide range of issues.
While many of these unionists may disagree with me and Sinn Féin politically, I see this trend as an extremely positive by-product of the political progress that has been made in recent years.
What do you do to relax?
Free time is a rare commodity as an MP. However, when I do get an opportunity to wind down I like nothing better than to lose myself building stone walls or in a bit of leisurely reading.