New Sinn Fein councillor Eric McGinley may have kept his Scottish accent but he’s every bit the Derry man.
Eric, 47, was born in the town of Paisley just outside Glasgow in 1964. He was the second oldest of six children. Eric’s father worked in the local factories and his mother was a housewife.
“Glasgow is a wee place just outside of Paisley,” jokes Eric.
“I had a very normal childhood. I went to the local primary school, St. Paul’s PS and then when I was older I moved on to St. Aelred’s Secondary School but in between times I discovered Glasgow Celtic.”
Coming from a working class Catholic background, Eric described his youthful fascination with Celtic as a natural progression.
“My earliest memory of supporting Celtic is going along to Parkhead with my father when I was eight or nine. Celtic played Partick Thistle that day and I think that Dixie Deans scored six goals,” he recalls happily.
Eric enjoyed school so much that after completing his O-levels he expressed a desire to stay on and study English, French and Spanish for A-level.
“I took a rush of blood to the head and decided to leave school. I worked in a few of the local factories near home and it was also around this time that I started to become aware of what was happening in the North of Ireland.”
Eric then joined the Wolfe Tone republican flute band and his first trip to Ireland saw him visit Derry in the 1980s.
“I’d become politically aware of what was going in the North of Ireland in terms of the jail protests and then hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981.
“I’d say that the hunger strikes were a pivotal moment in my life. It was also a special time for me personally because soon after Bobby Sands died on May 5, 1981 my younger brother Sean was born,” he smiles.
Eric’s grandfather on his father’s side of the family was originally from Drumquin in County Tyrone.
Eric said that although he was conscious of his Irish ancestry it was never something that was at the fore of his thoughts.
Instead, he said it was what was going on in the North of Ireland in the early 1980s that made him want to become a republican activist.
“I spent the best part of 11 or 12 years playing in the flute band. We travelled to many places but my first ever trip with the band was to Derry in 1982 for the Bloody Sunday commemoration.”
In 1994 Eric decided to move to Derry permanently where he joined Sinn Fein.
“A friend of mine in Paisley had relatives in Derry and they were always back and forth seeing one another so it seemed like as good a place as any.
“Not long after I got here I joined Sinn Fein. I joined the Padraig Pearse Cumann first but then I joined the Pol Kinsella Cumann. It was 1994 and the North of Ireland was a very busy place politically, it was only a few years before the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
“I helped out with all kinds of republican activism but I then became Chairperson of Derry Sinn Fein and remained in the position for eight years until I stood down in the early 2000s.”
When Sinn Fein councillor Billy Paige stood down from his seat on Derry City Council in 2010 Eric was co-opted on to council to take his place. However, when he stood for election at the local council elections last year he was unsuccessful.
Eric has been a central part of Sinn Fein’s Derry City Council team for quite some time so when councillor Gerry MacLochlainn decided to call time on his career as a local politician the party asked Eric if he would take Gerry’s place as councillor for the Northlands ward. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t re-elected the first time but I am delighted to be back on council again. I had my first council meeting last week and it went well.
“I’m responsible for the Foyle Springs, Hazelbank and Ballymagrarty areas and I have been meeting a lot of people over the last few weeks. I’ve been part of the party’s council team for a while and I know how council works. But I am just delighted to be given the chance to be on the ground and helping the constituents.
“Being a councillor is certainly a challenge but it’s a challenge that I know that I am capable of taking on.
“I don’t want to look back on my life and have any regrets. I always like to challenge myself and I also want to try and make a difference locally.
Eric said that since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 he has noticed a shift in what issues are now relevant to the electorate.
“The struggle has certainly changed but Sinn Fein’s objectives are still the same. We want to move towards a United Ireland.
“This is core to what the party stand for but I have noticed over the last few years a change in the kind of things people want to talk about.
“One of the most important issues that the electorate want us to focus on is job creation. It’s up to us as local politicians to do everything in our power to make sure that we bring as much employment to Derry as we possibly can.
“I also think that Sinn Fein’s Community Engagement Programme is a great way of developing and building relationships.
“I like getting out into the community and meeting the people that I am representing.
‘Listening to people’
“I suppose that’s the main reason why I wanted to be a councillor. I’m a real advocate of the whole concept of being on the ground and listening to what it is people have to say.
“Sometimes the people you are talking to don’t have any issues at all but they just appreciate the fact that someone has called at their door to see how they are getting on.”
When asked for his hopes and ambitions for the future Eric said that he wants to not only help serve the people he has been elected to serve but he also wants to continue on with his work as a republican activist.
“Sinn Fein have never been stronger and it’s an exciting time to be part of such a vibrant party.
“Sinn Fein, in my opinion, is the only party capable of delivering for the people.”
When he’s not busy working with the people of the community Eric enjoys reading history books and plays indoor football with fellow Sinn Fein councillor Mickey Cooper.
“I would say that Mickey [Cooper] plays football with me and not the other way around,” he laughed.
“We play a few times a week but we’re not as good as we’d like to be!”