This week our reporter Paul Wyatt met up with Alliance Party member and recent council candidate, Sian O’Neill at a WIMPS workshop.
WIMPS (Where Is My Public Servant) is an organisation run by young people who aim to make the political sphere in Northern Ireland more accessible for other young people in the wider community.
Sian has always held a strong passion for politics as she was “involved in the community and voluntary sector from the age of 16,” and she strongly advocates that young people be given the opportunity to participate and engage with the political process; a passion which she continues to pursue through her work at WIMPS
Initially Sian became involved in the Alliance party following an encounter with Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle. The pair met by coincidence at an event held by Belfast YMCA, where Sian had been heavily involved in youth work. When they crossed paths they found that they shared similar political views, and subsequently met for a coffee to have a more in-depth talk about the Alliance Party’s policies.
What specifically drew Sian to the Alliance Party was that she wanted to find a political party that “embodied diversity”. Sian said that having her own identity, and being confident in that identity, is hugely important to her, but so too is “being able to stand alongside other people with different backgrounds,” while, “fighting for the same purpose”, and she believes that the Alliance Party is the political vehicle that does just that.
As Sian works on a daily basis with young people, Paul wanted to find out whether she thinks that young people should get involved in politics. One of Sian’s “biggest bug bearers is when people refer to young people as the future….because what you’re saying to a young person by saying they’re the future is saying that they aren’t okay now, they aren’t important right now.” Sian also believes that it’s important to get young people involved in politics from as early an age as possible so that “they can se that they’re important now, and that they have just as valuable a voice as someone who’s an adult”.
Statistics show that young people are reluctant to vote, and turn-out in significantly smaller numbers than other age groups, such as 65+. With this in mind, Paul inquired whether Sian believes that young people have a right to complain about politics. Unsurprisingly Sian disagrees, and told Paul that young people do not currently have much of an incentive to vote. “If you look at the decision being made, they are being made with the electorate who vote most in mind….so of course politicians are going to pander to the electorate that supports them the most.”
Paul was intrigued to find out whether Sian thought it was particularly hard to be a woman involved in politics in Northern Ireland. Sian said, “I had a pretty negative initially experience when I was announced as a candidate. There were comments about my weight and how I looked. One of the comments was, ‘If you can’t control your weight, how can you be trusted with a political mandate.’”
The conversation soon progressed to the recent debate on quotas to increase the number of women in politics. Sian made it very clear that she is not a fan of quotas, stating, “I want to be at the table because I’m good enough, and I want to be at the table because I deserve my place at that table, not because I’m a woman and I’m ticking a box….for me, I don’t see that as appropriate.”
Through her involvement in politics, Sian aims to create a united society, “where you aren’t judged on the colour of your skin or whatever Chapel or Church you go to.” Sian would like to see a more effective and efficient political system in Northern Ireland where “local councils are actually being able to oversee the powers they’ve been given and…do it in a responsible manner. I’d like to see Stormont actually working for the people.”
This is only a snippet of Paul’s interview with Sian. To catch their conversation in full, head over to The Scoop’s Audioboo account: https://audioboo.fm/QUBTheScoop