Derry MEP who topped the European poll celebrates 25 years of marriage to Paul Kavanagh with a special ceremony.
She may be a poll-topping politician but at the weekend Derry’s Martina Anderson will be celebrating 25 years of marriage to her husband Paul with a special service and party.
The couple were married whilst the pair were serving jail terms in English prisons in 1989.
As such they never had a big wedding. Now celebrating 25 years together, the couple decided to use the occasion of their silver wedding to have a big celebration as well as recognising Martina’s recent victory in Europe.
Martina plays with her simple silver Oakleaf necklace as she sits in the Journal office - a gift given to her by one of the people she took from Derry on a delegation to the Europe parliament.
Inside the inscription reads: “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she can do anything.”
“I love this necklace,” she says. “And I believe if you put the right girl into Europe she can do anything too.”
Topping the poll in this year’s European election, Martina is fiercely proud of her 159,813 first preference votes - beating the quota by over 3,000 votes to become the first of Northern Ireland’s three MEPs.
But getting re-elected to Europe was something she says she never took for granted.
“It was never a foregone conclusion. If anything, as part of our political strategy I have been working very hard for the city, for the north west and for the entire island to try and maximise the opportunities. I think that what needs to happen is that people need to respect the voters and the electorate because they have made the choice.
“No-one in this city would have thought that we would have been coming out of the elections with Sinn Fein as the largest party.
“The political landscape has changed, there was nothing foregone about that. People would not have expected maybe the SDLP to be in the secondary position they are now in this city and the drop of their vote in the North.
“The reason we are in the lead in this city and the reason why I topped the poll and came in on the first count was because of the hard work and the motivation that we apply to the roles we are given and I think people respected and responded to that.”
The Derry MEP says when you compare the trend in pattern in other places in Europe which had a voting turnout as low as 18%, a 52% turnout for the European election in the north is good but “not good enough”.
“I want to give people in the city and across the North a reason to come out and vote,” she said. “Not reasons to stay at home.”
“When you consider there were 8,000 more people who voted for myself on top of who voted for our party, I was really honoured. And I was somewhat taken aback at that gap between the local elections and the European elections,”
And she believes that the way Gerry Adams handled him himself during his pre-election arrest settled people.
“It allowed people to realise that this peace process was in hand,” she said.
“It was challenging for Republicans having our leader arrested in that way with tapes the PSNI had for ten months.But our message was resonating on the doors.”
Martina is determined to continue to bring Derry to Europe in terms of further delegations.
“All I see around me are opportunities in Europe for Derry,” she said. “I am Derry’s ambassador in Europe.
“I’m here to work for everyone but I can’t do it alone. I am giving this city a shake and grabbing people and telling them we have to go for it. There are people in this city on good wages and salaries paid to deliver for this city. I am not going to be an observer.
“What I did was produce the Gateway to EU document to expose the opportunities that are there in Europe to the people.”
She is immensely proud that Sinn Fein now have four MEPs in Europe.
“It’s huge historically. It’s a kind of pinch yourself moment. One of the pledges I made as I left the count centre was to use the All Ireland influence we now have in Europe.
“For those people observing it, trying to decide what’s happening, I need them to come on board. There are still too many people not voting, and not making that step forward into the new political dispensation that we have. The world has changed and we need to move with it.
“There’s no point sitting disgruntled. I want to say to people to come on board. I want to make European issues more relevant. I will stand up for Derry, but I cannot carry Derry on my shoulders. I need Derry to stand with me.”
It’s clear the fall-out from the Civil Service act which barred ex-prisoners from serving as special advisers and led to her husband Paul Kavanagh losing his job still hurts.
“Bad laws don’t make good societies,” she said.
“There were a number of SDLP voters who told us they were disappointed in the handling and making of a bad law.
“My husband has had an impact on people in this city who don’t want to see bad laws. My husband was 16 when his brother was shot with his hands in the air. And loyalists came along and burned his feet because they thought he was alive.
“And for the SDLP leader to talk about a pecking order of victims - that hurt, not just Paul Kavanagh and his families, but it caused hurt to a lot of victims. I believe there are SDLP voters who realised or felt at that time they had taken a step too far.”
But Martina is keen to say she’s an MEP for the whole of the island.
“I’m here not just for Republicans for the whole constituency,” she insisted. “I have been elected to represent all of the people and I will do without fear or favourite.”