Our latest interview in our ‘Young people in politics’ series was with none other than the Chair of SDLP Youth, Cliona McCarney. Tori Watson caught up with Cliona, who had just returned from Washington DC, in a social hotspot in South Belfast.
Cliona became involved in politics “after spending a week’s work experience at the office of Alasdair McDonnell,” the SDLP Party Leader and MP for South Belfast. During this period Cliona had something of a “political epiphany”, as in her words, she saw a different kind of politics, not “the usual sectarian mud slinging” which she had seen on television, but rather she experienced politics “about people” and “dealing with constituents’ concerns,” on issues such as benefits and housing.
If you follow Cliona on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, you’ll undoubtedly be aware that Hilary Clinton is one of her greatest inspirations. Tori inquired what it is about Hilary that most inspires Cliona. She replied, “it’s her courage, she’s never been afraid to stand up for what she believes in even in the face of adversity…I also really admire her loyalty…and that she’s so family orientated. She’s been through a lot in that respect and it hasn’t put her off her political career.”
As for a future career in politics, Cliona said that her interest really lies in working at local council level, and at this point running for election is “not something that (she) would rule out.” However, she said that she “doesn’t see it happening for the foreseeable future,” as she “would quite like to go away and get a little more life experience…that would equip (her) to become a better political representative”.
In a recent interview with The Scoop, DUP Councillor Luke Poots said “the DUP…encourages young people…to get involved in politics, whereas some other parties give their young people a youth wing…(which) to me is like a play act…they never actually get involved as politicians. You know they do things, in their certain groups, but they are never going to be elected as a councillor, as their party is not giving them a chance.” Tori presented this statement to Cliona and asked if she felt this statement was reflective of the procedures within the SDLP Youth. Cliona retorted, “if that’s the case in other political parties then that is a sad state of affairs , but that is absolutely not what I have experienced in the SDLP. You only have to look at the amount of young people that have been elected to local councils and to the assembly as proof of that.”
Cliona is also an advocate of getting more young people involved in the political process as in her opinion, “until young people are fully empowered to be involved in the political process there will be some degree of democratic deficit.” Through her experience within the SDLP she said there has been “a great influx of young people in the last few years” and she believes “that other parties are the exact same”. She hopes that this is making “young people more politicised” as in her view “it’s certainly something which needs to happen”.
In terms of her own involvement in facilitating the participation of young people in politics, Cliona helps out at the SDLP stall “at universities and colleges (freshers’ fairs) across Northern Ireland” which “is probably (the SDLP’s) biggest source of recruitment” of young people. She has also gone back to her educational roots, and has spoken to many young people in her old primary school in South Belfast, explaining how politics has “changed (her) life..and the doors it has opened for (her).”
With over 44,000 tweets to her name, Tori asked Cliona whether she feels any limitations on her ‘tweeting’ due to her role of responsibility as Chairwoman of SDLP Youth. In Cliona’s opinion joining a political party or company can restrict you in terms of what you are allowed to post online. She said that in the past she “wasn’t aware” of what she was posting on Twitter, and as a result she “did get burned a few times”. She believes that this is all “part of growing up…becoming an adult…and entering the professional world,” however she would welcome more “guidance to be given,” to young people about online media usage.
Cliona’s main aim as a young person in politics is to “increase the amount of women that are elected across the island of Ireland and also on a global basis”
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