Politicians. It’s not often we hear them apologise for their mistakes but that’s how Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Sinn Féin, MLA) started our interview when he told our reporter Tori Watson that he wanted to “make a fulsome apology to the electorate for not speaking to you before now.”
The apology was accepted, and it was time to dive straight into the meaty issues. Exactly what would Mr Ó Muilleoir do, if elected, to ensure that students voices are heard?
Mr Ó Muilleoir said he would “bring people into the corridors of power, as it were, to make sure that were we are, that young people are with us…so that they can speak out and speak up.”
Often politicians are cited as being ‘out off touch’ with the public, so we asked, what does Mr Ó Muilleoir believe to be the top three issues which affect students?
“I presume the cost of education, even though we have managed to cap tuition fees and remain resolutely committed to that. It still can often be the case that if you don’t have a strong bank account at home that it’s difficult to stay at university, and we know then that it’s difficult for some working class people to stay for the four years.”
2. Employment Opportunities
“Secondly, I think young people want to have jobs when they come out [of university]. Youth unemployment was at 20%, it’s down to about 17%. But 17% is an indictment of all of us, and all of us need to do more.”
3. Climbing the Labour Market
Mr Ó Muilleoir said he often meets former students who “still haven’t got that permanent job. So it seems to me that downward wage pressure on students is extreme.”
Tori put the claim to Mr Ó Muilleoir that his critics say he’s good on social media, but doesn’t do anything practically. On fiery form, he said he would ask, “if those critics have created as many jobs across Belfast as I have over the last 20 years. I have invested strongly and wisely in working-class communities. I have built up a strong business. I’m always backing our entrepreneurs and trying to find more venture capital.”
At present, Sinn Féin MP’s abstain from taking their seats at Westminster. Because Mr Ó Muilleoir styles himself as a new, fresh style of politician, I wanted to ask him if he has personally ever thought about taking his seat at Westminster, if elected.
“No I haven’t. I like to – as my Buddist chaplain used to say – live in the moment, and I like to deal with the practicalities of the political situation and the realities of the current political situation.”
You can hear the full interview here.