For the fifth and final part of our “Young People in Politics” series, Tori Watson interviewed Sinn Féin Member and recent Council Candidate, Mary Kate Quinn.
Mary Kate became involved in politics from the age of 18, but had “always been interested in politics” due to the “lack of facilities and amenities” in her local area. From an early age she felt that “the only way to really change (such issues) is through politics”, which in turn led her to pursue her current passion.
Tori asked Mary Kate how important she feels it is for young people to get involved in politics, to which she replied “young people need to be involved in politics to be able to deal with the issues that are facing them…(politics) is the only way that you can make change…in your communities…(and ) to people’s lives as well as your own.” Mary Kate also highlighted that one of the most significant issues facing young people at the moment is “the lack of jobs in the North”, and as such she feels that “these (sorts of) issues need to be dealt with by young people”.
On a personal level Mary Kate has strived to get young people involved in the political process through an organisation, which she co-founded, called The Mairéad Farell Republican Youth Committee. The Belfast based committee was established in December 2011, and “has grown from strength to strength” with approximately 80 members to date. The committee itself takes an active role in politics, from “protesting, to educational trips, to canvassing within the (committee) structures….they are involved in everything.”
Mary Kate’s greatest political inspiration is former Sinn Féin MEP, Bairbre de Brún. Mary Kate said Bairbre “has always been a very strong woman..she’s always been very vocal and at the fore of promoting women’s issues”, and “promoting the North” in Brussels as an MEP. Mary Kate said “I think she’s just brilliant, and she’s a lovely woman to speak to as well”.
In a previous interview with The Scoop, Alliance party member Sian O’Neill revealed that she had received some online abuse during the recent council elections, which specifically made reference to her appearance. Tori asked Mary Kate if this was commonplace for women across the board in politics, or if Sian had just been extremely unlucky to receive such abuse from online trolls.
Mary Kate told Tori about similar attacks which she has personally experienced online, and in her opinion, this type of abuse “is off-putting for women to become involved in politics..because you don’t want to be judged on your appearance…at the end of the day, it just needs to give you more drive to say, I don’t care what you think about my appearance, I’m here to do a job and to represent my community.”
Tori asked Mary Kate what she thinks drives people to be a little more derogatory towards women who are running for political election, and whether she believes that such issues arise as a result of the media’s influence or the general set-up of society itself. Mary Kate gave Tori an account of a recent newspaper article which was published during the election period, which had the title “Party Poster Girls”. Mary Kate was one of the women included in the piece, and was contacted by the paper prior to printing to give some background information as to her reasons for standing for election, including if she “was happy to be able to run for Sinn Féin”. Mary Kate said, “of course I was (happy), but then (it was) put it into the paper that I was happy to be Sinn Féin’s Party poster girl!” Mary Kate went on to say that “it’s not very nice…and it’s not the message that I want to get across….I am very capable of representing this community in the Council, but that’s not what the media put across..and I think that’s one of the reason why society looks at women in this way.”
When it comes to increasing the amount of women involved in politics, Mary Kate is a solid advocate, stating, “we definitely need more young women into politics because…you’re dealing with different issues whenever you’re speaking about women, and men sitting up in the Assembly cannot deal with women’s issues.”
Through her involvement in politics, Mary Kate hopes to “bring about change” in her local area in relation to facilities which are available. She wants to do further “community based development” work, and although unsuccessful in her recent council election campaign, her main aim is to secure funding and permission for a “community soccer pitch” in Glenavy. For Mary Kate, politics “is about local level…it’s not about moving up the ranks, or…to the Assembly. (She) just wants to make a change in (her) area,” and she hopes to run as a council candidate during the next council elections.
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