We’ve already introduced you to Hamish Badenoch (Conservatives) and Mark Durkan (SDLP); tonight’s candidate interview is with Alliance Party Westminster candidate, David Hawthorne.
Name: David Hawthorne.
Occupation: Environmental worker and consultant.
How long have you been a member of the Alliance Party? Two years.
Q1 - Why should the people of Foyle vote for you on May 7?
David Hawthorne: “You can vote for Alliance because we can deliver for the people of Foyle.
“Naomi Long has shown the way in which she has taken forward a Belfast constituency which has a Loyalist or Unionist majority. I want to do the same for Foyle, with a Nationalist majority, using Naomi’s example and help, she is a great inspiration for people who are totally against racism, sectarianism and stand up proudly for peoples and human rights, respecting their traditions but always holding a clear line that respects everyone.
“I have a long track record of working against racism by being in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid, protesting and prosecuting Dunnes Stores in the 1980s. I witnessed the attacks at Burntollet as a young boy and resolved to strive to avoid conflict at all costs. I have worked in all levels of government and also a long career outside of politics, in public sector and private sector roles as an Environmental consultant well as working overseas.
“I have had success in getting £100m for the agriculture sector and in getting the RAPID rural development organisation set up at Brackfield, and more recently have been involved in retaining the rail-link to Derry.
“I am a local entrepreneur setting up the first commercial organic farm in Northern Ireland. I see Alliance as the only party which represents my values and principles, and one that I am honoured to represent.
“I believe in the words of Liam Neeson in the film ‘Taken’, “I have a particular set of skills” and I intend to use them for the benefit of the people of Foyle. I have never been a ‘professional politician’ but I see that as a huge benefit in this role.”
Q2 - What are the greatest challenges facing the Foyle constituency at present?
David Hawthorne: “Unemployment, infrastructure, health and further education.
“Foyle has the highest unemployment of all 650 constituencies, an appalling and damning legacy of the Mark Durkan era. If people have no jobs it’s difficult to take forward and raise hopes for the next generation. Our biggest export is our young people, and that is a vast loss of talent and a sad reflection on Derry and Foyle. This must change. I want to take us off the bottom of the league, but you can’t do that unless you change the manager. Your MP is the ‘manager’ of his or her constituency, and as such they must bear ultimate responsibilty for the failure, to get the best for their constituents.
“Infrastructure is the next priority, Sinn Fein had the chance to do it and failed, they failed to deliver either the A5 or A6 upgrades when they had the chance and left the railways in a terrible condition. We almost lost the rail link, it but a combined community effort with my support persuaded the UUP minister to save the rail line to Derry. He made a mess of the upgrade project and it is now in limbo, but the big job of persuading him of the right outcome was a major victory for the people of Foyle and I am proud that I had the chance to play a part in saving the rail-link. We need to press on and get the railway extended to Letterkenny so we can secure a greener future for infrastructure links.
“Health - this is a massive plus for Derry. We have a world class facility in Altnagelvin and further developing this major asset will reap huge rewards to the health and wellbeing of the whole of the North West region. I look forward to helping the Western Trust deliver and build on its successes and made further contributions to securing a better future for all health services and social care. If I am your MP I will not vote any reductions or cuts in health care like the DUP has done in the last few weeks, forcing difficult decisions on hard-pressed managers and hardworking nurses and doctors. They also deserve their one per cent uprating denied by a penny pinching SF/DUP led executive which just tries to pretend it will do anything other than back up a Conservative administration wedded to further vast cuts.
“Higher Education- This is a priority, the DEL minister Stephen Farry has just announced a £7.6m investment in a teaching block, and further developments can be built on this.
“The Magee campus could be a world leader in conflict resolution if it had the support and political will to set it up. I want to help set up a John Hume centre, of conflict resolution, and human rights. A fitting and lasting legacy to a tireless and hardworking politician who stood up against conflict through all the difficult times. He deserves recognition for going the extra mile which no-one else would do when the outlook was bleak. He stretched out his hand to reach out to those who were wedded to conflict and it is a great credit that he carried this through, knowing the risks to him , his party and colleagues. I will work tirelessly in the same way, to complete the job and bring prosperity to this great city and build on his legacy.”
Q3 - Foyle has been an SDLP stronghold for over 30 years, if voted in what would you and your party do differently?
David Hawthorne: “There are clear differences in Alliance and SDLP. Firstly our party is united and works together for everyone, clearly there are also other differences. We have similar economic and social policies but on some crucial aspects we are very different. Alliance favours dealing with the issue of abortion and to a limited extend removing horrendous suffering from women who face terrible ethical and emotional decisions. I would allow for the particular and limited circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality, and legislate to allow for termination in exceptional circumstances, we should not be exporting our health problems as well as our young people. We should have the courage to admit that this is the humane approach to this sensitive topic. I personally would never presume to know what to do in these circumstances and therefore would rely on trained medical assessment to be made and to provide for two doctors to authorise any termination in specific and clear circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality where no prospect of life was deemed feasible.
“Also, Alliance is unequivocal about the costs and benefits of integrated education, we should accept that if we are to professionalise our teacher training it is not tenable to have two teacher training colleges here, just so we can have one Catholic and one nominally Protestant, that flies in the face of all the evidence which points to the need to desegregate education, if we have effectively locked in ‘apartheid’ in our education system, is it any wonder we have struggled to rid ourselves of sectarianism if our schooling is sectarian . Not everyone will agree, but, we need to take some radical steps to remove the perceived community and cultural differences for our children. This is part of the Belfast Agreement which is being fudged and twisted just so ‘powerful’ sectarian organisations can retain their ‘training facilities’ rather than signing up for the greater good of all.
“Our vision is not limited by being wedded to either Unionist or Nationalist aspirations.
“When you free yourself of this issue and leave the decision as set out in the Good Friday agreement to the people in a democratic vote you can move on with normal politics and get on with the job whether is to do with getting better animal welfare laws implemented, or dog fouling dealt with properly, or getting a fair deal for disabled or enhanced provision of childcare or parental leave or dealing with exploitation of workers rights.
“I always remember that historians recall that it was Derry which helped most to win the second world war, not the Enigma code or the Russians, a fact which Nationalists will not admit.
“I am unrepentant in asking the UK government to recognise the unique contribution of Derry made to maintain the Atlantic corridor and enable vast amounts of US service men and munitions and supplies to get through to fight and defeat the Nazi regime. I am very proud that my home townland of Brackfield was chosen as the location of the permanent woodland memorial to all those Irishmen and women lost in the First World War. It is also close to the site of the Battle of Burntollet, the spark which lit the past troubles.
“Should we ever face similar global threats from a resurgent Russia or the crazy people involved with IS I am certain that the people of Derry will again play their part in securing a safe and prosperous future for Europe.
“We shouldn’t downplay our role when we can use it to argue for a peace dividend or to secure further investment in jobs and tourism on the back of our incredible heritage, both cultural and historical.”
Q4 How would you and your party help the people in Foyle realise a better quality of life?
David Hawthorne: “Foyle has incredible natural assets and we do not make enough use of this, we need to further develop what has been started with the Fleadh, UK City of Culture and the Turner Prize, we need to develop the creative arts not just as a possible add on but as a full part of our offer to inward investment opportunities.
“It is vital that funding lost is returned and larger funds are made available. More and more potential investors who look at location to locate look at the wider ‘offer’ so that executives who travel from far away can be assured a wide range of social and cultural experiences to add to their visits to Derry.
“This will require further ability to develop and influence these digital and high value skilled jobs in the creative sector. It is the future, and we need to nourish and develop it, into the next high value job creating sector.
“I feel we should now bid for European City of Culture, and further invest in sports facilities and culture.”