Speaker for 12th September 2017

President Mike Turner greets Claire Sugden with Speakers Secretary John McKegney (R) and Vice President Des Moore (L)

Coleraine Probus hear about 'Life at Stormont'

Coleraine Probus were given a unique peek into the workings of Stormont, when local MLA Claire Sugden visited the club. Claire began her talk with a brief explanation of how she began her career and reached to position she currently holds.

As a student, Claire had studied Politics at Queens - a subject not guaranteed to lead to a job on completion! However, on graduating in 2008, she sent a letter to David McClarty asking for 'work experience', and stayed for the next six years until David's forced retirement and soon after, sad death. A 'quirk' in the Northern Irish political system allows for retiring councillors to nominate a successor, and David had put forward Claire's name. The rest is (recent) history!

Following in the 'Independent Unionist' path taken by David McClarty, would normally mean that there was no possibility of becoming a minister. It therefore came as a total surprise when she was asked to play a role in the government of the province. When asked at her interview 'What do you want?' - meaning what sort of inducement or pet project would be the 'price' of getting the post and helping the 'two sides' out of a stalemate situation - Claire answered 'To be able to do the job!'

At 29, Claire said that she believed people were saying 'How can that wee girl do that job?' Being the Minister of Justice is certainly one of the most contentious jobs in the Assembly, and Claire has no 'Law' experience - that's possibly an advantage, there's no preconceived prejudices. So Claire went and talked to as many people as possible to get their differing views on the situation, so she could then draw her own conclusions. One of the striking facts she did discover is that in most of the UK, the time between a suspect being charged with a crime and then brought before the court is about six months. In Northern Ireland it is two years. (Similar to the NHS waiting lists! nice to know we are consistent here in NI - WebEd).

The Assembly 'falling apart' in the New Year was, and still is, very frustrating for Claire. She believes that it has little to do with the 'Cash for Ash' scandal or the subsequent 'Irish Language' issue, it is 'Politics' and the attitude of the ground floor party activists on both sides, that they just don't like the idea of Unionists and Nationalists working together. Claire said the DUP and Sinn Féin have to find a way of cooperating and get the Assembly working for the benefit of ALL the people in the province.

The talk finished the a 'lively' question and answer session. Unsuprisingly, foremost in the questioning were queries as to why she and all the other MLAs were still being paid while not doing their jobs. Claire agreed that it was clearly frustrating that she was not able to tackle some aspects for her job, but her constituency work and the constituency office continues. If she wasn't paid, then the office would have to close and she (along with office staff) would have to try to find another job. And this would be the same for all the MLAs.

For the sake of the people of Northern Ireland, we have to press for the two majority party leaders to think in terms of 'how can we do this' rather than reasons why they can't. Claire's talk was titled 'Life at Stormont', the current situation had Probus members wondering 'Is there Life at Stormont', let's hope there is.

For a full review of Claire Sugden's Early Political career, 'Click' the logo below: