Derry’s first gay candidate standing for local council

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Creggan man Liam Friel is hoping to make history in May by being the first openly gay man to be elected to Derry City Council.

Thirty-four years-old Mr Friel is standing as a Sinn Féin candidate in the Cityside ward in the May 5th poll.

He previously contested the 2005 local government election as a candidate for the now-defunct Socialist Environmental Alliance (SEA).

However, the Creggan man said he joined Sinn Féin shortly after the poll and believes it is the only party that offers a voice to working class communities.

“I first got into politics in November 2004 when I was involved in the SEA campaign against water charges. I stood in the election to oppose water charges but after the election the SEA disappeared. I looked around at the other parties and saw that Sinn Féin was the only party that do anything,” he said.

The civil servant said he wants to give a voice to public sector works in particular. “I’m from a trade union background and when I started in the civil service the first thing I did was join the union. When I started working in Waterside House there was no trade union so I started it up again and it is going strong now.

“These are difficult times for public sector workers and they need a voice and I think that is something Sinn Féin can give. We want to head down Tory cuts. Sinn Féin are the only party that have come up with a realistic alternative to the cuts. We have met all the major trade unions on this issue. The SDLP are getting into bed with the Tories so front line public sector workers need a strong voice to come out of these elections,” he said.

While Mr Friel is the first openly gay candidate to contest an election in the city, he does not believe his sexuality will be a major issue for voters. “I am gay and I married my partner in a civil partnership last November, but I am not standing as a gay candidate; I’m a republican candidate.

“Being gay is a part of me but it is one of many. I recognise there is still discrimination out there but things have got much better.

“I want to provide a voice for everyone out there,” he said.

The Creggan man said he is enthusiastic hitting the campaign trail in the coming weeks. “I’m not afraid of hard work so I’m looking forward to the campaign and getting out on the doorsteps meeting people and discussing the issues.

“I’ve always had an interest in politics and come from a republican family from Creggan Heights. I’m the oldest of a family of eleven so there was always plenty of debate and discussion,” he said.

Mr Friel also said he believes the electorate are looking for new faces in politics. “There is a need for younger people to get into politics and the Sinn Féin team offers a mix of youth and experience. People are looking for new, young, energetic candidates, as we saw in Donegal with the election of Pearse Doherty and Padráig MacLochlainn. Other parties have become stale and are finding it difficult to get younger people to come into politics but when young people join Sinn Féin they are given opportunities and become part of the party’s decision making process,” he said.