Sinn Féin councillor Gerry MacLochlainn is preparing to step down from Derry City Council but insists that he is not leaving political life.
Colr. MacLochlainn has represented the Northland ward on Derry City Council for more than ten years but his political involvement began long before that and he has said it will continue long after he leaves Council.
The outgoing councillor said stepping down from his current role will allow him more time to focus on international affairs for Sinn Féin.
It was international affairs that first sparked the Derry man’s interest in politics more than four decades ago.
“As an Irish republican I have always seen parallels with what is happening in other countries and what is happening here. One thing that motivated me when I was young was the civil rights movement when I began to become politically conscious and the black civil rights movement in America was a big inspiration.
“Some of my earliest political involvement was protesting against the Vietnam war when I was quite young,” he said.
It was in matters closer to home, however, that Colr. MacLochlainn made his mark politically. As a member of Derry City Council, Colr. MacLochlainn has played a key role in the development of City of Derry Airport in recent years.
“When I first came on Council it was a very difficult time in terms of the airport. Cathal Crumley, who was chair of the committee at the time, was forced to resign to highlight the fact he could not get information. The airport was initially a small aerodrome but it has now, thanks to a lot of hard work, been transformed into an important part of the infrastructure of the north west of the island,” he said.
Colr. MacLochlainn said the difficulties at the airport were among the biggest challenges in his council career. “Things came to a head with the temporary closure of the airport by the Civil Aviation Authority because of failings in the health and safety system.
Major changes have taken place since then, thanks to the efforts of councillors, officers, the business community, and our commercial partner, Parker Brinkhoven, who have been instrumental with their expertise.
“I am now confident with the way the airport is being run. Unfortunately that has come at the same time as the global economic crisis which has led to a drop in passenger numbers everywhere.
“Despite that we have been recovering faster than other airports and are the fastest growing airport in the North,” he said.
Colr. MacLochlainn was also centrally involved in promoting environment issues and recycling during his time on Derry City Council.
Now as he is leaving Council, the Derry republican said he will have more time to focus on international concerns. “Throughout my life I have campaigned for people in other parts of the world who are involved in struggles with parallels with our own. I worked in support of anti-apartheid campaigners in South Africa. On behalf of Sinn Féin I attended the first meeting of the Kurdish parliament in exile in the Hague, the only Irish representative to do so.
“But my main international interest has always been the middle east. It began when I was a prisoner in England during the hunger strikes and I saw a photograph of a group of Palestinian women holding posters in support of the hunger strikers. I took great heart from that and I was determined to stand by the people of Palestine,” he said.
In recent years, Colr. MacLochlainn has visited Gaza regularly and is planning to make another journey at the end of this month.
While he may be leaving front line politics, the Derry man said he will still be involved locally and internationally. “Someone once said, ‘They haven’t gone away, you know,’ and I certainly won’t be going away.”