Gearóid Ó hEára exited public life as a Derry City Councillor in 2005 but when it came to public service and serving his party, Sinn Fein, he continued to work away in the background.
Gearóid, (61) is Sinn Fein’s candidate to contest the Westminster election in the Foyle constituency in May next year.
Since exiting life as an elected representative almost ten years ago, former Mayor of Derry, Gearóid, has worked tirelessly for the party in both Stormont and the Dail in Dublin. Gearóid also sits on the North’s Policing Board.
“I am still a member of the party and still part of my cumman in Shantallow,” said Gerry.
“I’ve been busy working in the background for the party all of these years.
“When the party approached me about standing in next year’s election it was something that I gave great thought to. It’s an honour and a privilege to be selected and to be honest, I am really looking forward to getting out on the ground and meeting people again.”
If the prospect of standing in a Westminster election wasn’t enough to make your head spin, Gearóid is extremely busy with his day job as Chief Executive of the Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin in Great James Street.
Gearóid is passionate about the Irish language and culture and has been a fluent Gaelic speaker since his early twenties.
“I made a conscious decision to learn the Irish language when I was around 20.
“I wanted to learn how to speak the language at a high level so I studied it at the University of Ulster.”
With his Liofa badge secured on his lapel, Gearóid is a local driving force towards developing Gaelic and encouraging people to learn the language.
Derry’s Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin celebrated its fifth birthday earlier this week. Gearóid has been heavily involved in the development and construction of the building from the very beginning and the success of the Irish language locally is something that says he could never have imagined.
“We had a plan of where we wanted to take the Irish language once the building was complete. We had a strategy for five years but we were at full capacity less than 12 months after the building opened - no one could have predicted the success.”
Gearóid’s pride for the way in which the Irish language has developed and grown in Derry is obvious but it’s the popularity of learning Gaelic amongst people from Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist (PUL) communities that has Gearóid feeling particularly happy.
“There’s enough people from the PUL communities learning or wanting to learn Irish for me to be able to say that there has been a change in thinking. Personally, I am so proud and happy to see so many people of different ages, faiths, backgrounds and with different political views learning Irish,” he said.
Gearóid also played an instrumental part in bringing the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann to Derry in 2013. He is also involved in the campaign to bring the Fleadh back to Derry.
“There was great opposition to the Fleadh coming to Derry but the people of this city fought their own corner and we were successful in bringing the Fleadh to the city.
“I thought the civic pride which took place in Derry during the Fleadh was amazing. I don’t think the people of Derry know just how unique they are. I heard of visitors to the city asking for directions and Derry people just didn’t give them directions, they took them to the place they wanted to go and there were even instances of local people taking visitors in their cars to places. The way the people of this city opened their hearts to visitors was amazing.
“We are also campaigning to bring the Fleadh back to the city because I think many will agree it was one of the most amazing experiences during our year of culture.”
The Foyle constituency has been traditionally viewed by voters and political analysts alike as a stronghold for the SDLP.
Ever since John Hume first took the seat back in 1983, the Westminster seat in Foyle has remained in the hands of the SDLP.
Incumbent, Mark Durkan, has held off the challenge from Sinn Fein in 2005 and 2010.
When questioned whether he sincerely thought he had a chance of taking the seat from the SDLP, Gearóid said he had not agreed to be a candidate to make up the numbers and began to spell out how, if elected, he would represent the people.
“One of the motions I put forward during my time as Mayor of Derry was that the city’s mayor should be elected. I think Derry needs someone who can be a civic champion and pool all of the experience we have here.
“We have great political experience here in people like Martin McGuinness, Martina Anderson, Mitchell McLaughlin, Mark Durkan, Willie Hay and Gregory Campbell. We also have some great business and entrepreneurship leaders from Derry. I think a civic champion would be a step in the right direction because if we had everyone working together and all our resources going towards one goal then I believe we could make a great attempt at improving things locally.
“The reason I got involved in politics the first time was to try and improve the quality of life for people. Martina Anderson often says ‘Derry has witnessed more visions than Fatima’, it’s no longer time for visions - it’s time for making things happen for the people of this city and if elected next year that’s precisely what I intend to do.”
“That’s why I got involved in politics again - I want to help and improve the quality of life of everyone in this constituency.
“I am genuinely looking forward to getting out on the campaign trail. When I was a councillor I really enjoyed meeting people and listening to what they had to say - I am looking forward to doing that again.”