Mary, the people’s champion

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FAMILY, friends and colleagues have gathered to pay tribute to politician and rights advocate Mary Nelis following 50 years in office.

A special celebratory reception was staged in the Guildhall this week, hosted by the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Elisha McCallion.

Those gathered were informed about how Mary Nelis has played a key role in shaping Derry for over 50 years in her various roles as local Sinn Fein Councillor, MLA, leading community activist, and a champion for women both at home and in the political arena.

Speaking at the event, Mayor McCallion recalled some of the key highlights from Mrs Nelis’ career: “I think there is no doubt that women in Derry owe a debt to Mary for her work in changing the perceptions of the role of local women.

“I am delighted to host this reception as I know that if it weren’t for leaders like Mary overcoming the stereotypes, breaking the gender barriers and forging a successful path in politics, I certainly would not be in the role I am today.

“Her tireless work over the decades on behalf of the Bogside and Brandywell has brought hope, progress and opportunity, and won her the respect of the entire community.

“In her work with Sinn Fein and as a proud republican, Mary has played an integral role in fighting for justice, equality and freedom for the people of this city and the North. I am so proud to have worked alongside Mary over the years and I hope that in following her example I achieve half as much for Derry throughout my own time in politics.”

Mrs Nelis first became active in community associations in the Sixties, spurred on by her role as a voice for the shirt factory workers. To this day she remains a campaigner for the women who operated the machines to save their families from poverty and drive the local economy.

Mary went on to establish Dove House. Her role as a passionate campaigner on behalf of the Hunger Strikers and as a decisive female voice in Sinn Fein led her from the Guildhall Chamber to the Assembly in 1998.

Now aged 80, Mary Nelis has retired from local politics but is still active on behalf of the community and the party.