Walking away from a successful career to help others is something many of us think about but rarely do. Incoming Sinn Fein Derry City Councillor, Bridget Meehan, did just that.
When she was a young woman growing up in Manorcunningham, Bridget studied Computer Science at the local Donogh O’Malley College Letterkenny (now Letterkenny IT) before going on to study for an honours and then a masters degree in the same subject at the University of Ulster, Magee.
Bridget then went on to Limerick where she completed a Phd. in Computer Science and soon after her graduation she went to work for some of the most prominent names in corporate software development.
“I never really wanted to do computer science. When I was younger I saw it as a means to and end and that end was getting a job.
“I worked in the software industry as a developer, researcher and I also lectured in the subject but as time went by I found myself becoming increasingly unsettled.”
Bridget, the oldest of three children, was raised by her parents Charlie and Ruby (nee Green) and when she was growing up she was surrounded by Republican politics, particularly in the early 1980s.
“I suppose the reason I never saw eye to eye with job working in the computer industry was because I couldn’t work within the confines of a big corporation” she said.
“I have always been in interested in addressing inequality - be that social or economic inequality - it’s something I am very passionate about tackling.”
In 2007 Bridget walked away from her computer software industry job to take up a position working in the Waterside community for the Waterside Neighbourhood Partnership and before leaving to take a job working for Sinn Fein she helped to tackle the deprivation in the area.
“I would have been involved in a lot of neighbourhood renewal work and the beauty of working in that part of this city is that there is a lot of cross-community work.
“I liked being part of something that was benefiting others. I never felt like I was making a difference when working in the computer industry but when I started working in the community the feeling that was missing was there - it felt right.”
In keeping with her fervour for helping others, Bridget saw a move into local politics as the next logical step.
In recent weeks Sinn Fein announced that long time serving Waterside councillor and former Mayor, Lynn Fleming, would be stepping down from her role as an elected representative.
Bridget has been selected by the party to replace Ms. Fleming and she will be co-opted on to Derry City Council in the next few weeks.
“I really am excited at the prospect of becoming a local councillor but I am up for the challenges it brings. Although Lynn is stepping down from her role as a councillor she will still continue to be heavily involved with the party.
“The inception of the Derry/Strabane super council is not too far away either so it will be interesting to see how it forms from the party’s perspective.
“Sinn Fein’s sense of social equality is something that has always appealed to me. The fact that every worker only draws an industrial wage is something that appeals to me too.”
“I think I know the kind of issues that people in the rural community regard as important and I also want to make sure that the Waterside area gets its fair share of help and support from the statutory bodies.
“I want to stress that the development of the Ebrington site should be something local people and local businesses can take ownership of and I want to see the traders in Clooney Terrace and on Spencer Road benefit as a direct result,” she added.
Before agreeing to be co-opted on to Derry City Council, Bridget was heavily involved with the development of the One Plan (a ten year regeneration plan for the city of Derry) which sets out the clear role of the public, private and community and voluntary sectors in delivering the 12,900 jobs required to reposition the city as the economic hub of the North West over the next 10 years.
“It was a lot of work but we got there in the end and now we have people bought into the One Plan, it is up to us to take it and run with it.
“We are not going to solve the problems this city is experiencing over night but if we plan properly, like we have done with the One Plan, then we have direction.
“Perhaps the most important aspect of the One Plan is that we have organisations wanting the same things, working together. Partnerships and co-operation is key if this city is to develop.”
A lot of the sentiment Bridget feels about the One Plan is repeated when she begins to talk about Sinn Fein’s vision of the development and expansion of the University of Ulster campus at Magee.
“Now that the relevant bodies and individuals have bought into our plans for the development of Magee I believe that we will see some major developments there over the next few years.
“There should be more students coming to Derry for a university education and by implementing the party’s plans for the development of Magee we believe we will increase the numbers at the university significantly.”
Bridget is always striving to find ways to improve the quality of life for others in her local community and when she’s not busy working for Sinn Fein she likes nothing more than to sit and read about how other places in the world are improving their local communities.
“This is where I make myself sound really boring,” she laughed.
“I love reading and I am really interested in finding out about how other communities around the world have tackled social and economic problems.
“I also enjoy movies and my favourite films are ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.
Bridget will take up her role as a Derry City Councillor in the coming weeks.