Independent councillor Darren O’Reilly talks to the Sunday Journal about his life and community work in Rosemount. He also talks about his recent success in the local elections and hopes for the future.
Despite his recent election Darren O’Reilly doesn’t see himself as a politician but a voice for the community he will represent.
The sentiment is unsurprising as Darren has devoted the majority of his adult life to youth and community work and his passion for it is plain to see.
The 30-year-old Rosemount man admits that as a teenager he saw little prospect for himself and certainly never believed he would end up in a position where he could change things for others.
After leaving St Joseph’s Boys School, Darren was unemployed and ‘lying around the house with no real prospect’.
His mum encouraged him to go to the Rosemount Resource Centre where there were courses on offer and opportunities to volunteer.
Darren got involved wholeheartedly and devoted himself to community work.
Now married to wife Fionnuala with one daughter, Darren is the youth co-ordinator at the centre. He was crucial in setting up the youth forum at a time when there were tensions between residents and young people in the area.
“Because I was local and young I gravitated towards the young people.
“But I also had the respect of the elderly because I am from Rosemount and my family have lived here for generations.
“The youth forum in Rosemount was set up at a time of heightened bother between residents and teenagers. Everybody has a right to live in the community so the aim of the forum was to help residents understand the young people and the young people understand that the residents need to live in peace.
“The two groups managed to come together through inter-generational projects and agree a residents charter to respect everyone in the community.”
“There is huge unemployment, hopelessness and problems with drink and drugs affecting the young people in our community.
“I’m dealing with people with drug and alcohol issues day and daily. It is not something that just affects them, it ripples out to their family as well.
“Something I would really like to see put in place is early intervention programmes.”
These problems inspired Darren to go back to further education and enrol on a degree course.
“I am doing a degree in responding to drug and alcohol abuse. I took the decision to do this based on need - I wanted to do something that would be beneficial to the community.”
He also believes strongly that if young people are part of the problem in society they must also be part of the solution.
He would like to see more young people get involved with the political process and grasp opportunities to get involved with community based projects.
Darren’s decision to run for council was also taken to benefit the community.
“People within the area have been talking about an independent candidate for last few years in order to have their voice heard. They wanted someone who is on the ground who is going to represent them on the council with no other political agenda. As an independent councillor I hope to be able to make changes for the people I represent.”
Darren did not make the decision to stand for lightly. It was something he ‘weighed up’ with his family for a long time, but believes it is the ‘right step forward’.
He accepts that while he may not be able to change policy at local government level he wants to ‘help’ and ‘get things done’ for his constituents.
“I know I can’t change the world but I want people to feel that they have a voice. I also want to be someone that young people can identify with and someone who understands what is happening at community level.
“In my mind I am not a politician. I am a conduit for people to become part of the process and have their voice heard.”
Providing better services for young people is something Darren is particularly passionate about and protecting funding for community groups like the one that gave him every opportunity to succeed.
The 30-year-old is looking forward to his new role as councillor and is very ‘humbled’ by the support that he received at the polls.
“I am really buzzing about being elected and really looking forward to sitting on the council. In the community it often feels like you are out in the cold but now that I am involved in the decision making process hopefully I will get things done. I can’t change policy but I will have more powers to help.”
“I am also very humbled by the support I received. I went down to the count centre expecting to come fourth or fifth and I would have been happy with that. I actually said to one of the other councillors if I poll 600 votes I can walk out with my head held high.”
Darren wants to reassure those living in the Foyleside area that although his base is in Rosemount, he will be working as tirelessly for all the surrounding communities.
“My aim is to go into each of the areas and open community surgeries for a couple of hours each week. This way I will be able to hear first hand the issues affecting them.”
The 30-year-old also intends to use the £4,500 pay rise on offer to councillors to help young people and local charities.
“I want to invest that back into the local community. I want to set up trust funds or bursaries or scholarships or allow local charities to benefit from it. I would also like to donate some of that money to a toy and food appeal run in the local area every year.”
He reveals that although he never believed he would enter the political arena he was always interested in working class politics and looked up to politicians like Karl Marx, James Connolly and Jim Larkin.
“When I was young I would never have believed I would be a councillor or in a position where I could influence power. I never saw outside the four walls. I think young people do tend to live by the day to day. Now there is a real lack of opportunities but they need to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel - there was for me.”