The weeks leading up to the completion of a university degree would prove a major challenge for anyone. But throw in learning the ropes as a new city councillor representing one of Derry’s largest areas at the same time, and it begins to look like an impossible task.
However, new Sinn Fein Ballyarnett councillor, Caoimhe McKnight, has managed to do just that and has emerged with a First Class Honours Degree in Law with Accountancy from the Ulster University.
Colr. McKnight, who is also mother to five-year-old Eamonn, is the first to admit that this achievement has involved a lot of hard work.
Commenting on finishing her degree at Magee, the 33-years-old Galliagh native said: “It was really tough, I’m not going to lie. It was really hard going and just towards the end of it, Elisha got elected as an MLA and I was asked to replace her on the council. “It was a bit of a balancing act between having the family, finishing off ‘uni’ and then learning my new role as a councillor, but I’m going to use all my experience and all that hard work and dedication to represent the people of the Greater Shantallow and Culmore area to the best of my ability.”
And Colr. McKnight knows the area she has been selected to represent very well, having grown up in Ederowen Park before moving to Ballyarnett.
Colr. McKnight said she was honoured to be chosen to represent Sinn Fein and replace Elisha McCallion, who was elected to the Assembly in March before winning the Westminster seat last month.
She said; “Over 18,000 people voted for a new Republican MP and a lot of people I have been talking to are overjoyed, not only with the fact that it is a Republican MP but also a female MP, which they didn’t think would happen for a very long time.
“It’s encouraging to see that Sinn Fein do seem to be leading the way with putting women and young women forward. Not only myself and Elisha, but also Karen (Mullan) who will replace Elisha as an MLA, and Sandra Duffy as well. Michelle O’Neill, of course, is a shining example.
“This is also reflected in the fact that over the past few months we have had several hundred young members joining the party in the Derry area. Many are young women and they are bringing fresh ideas from a community level which is beneficial to any party.”
Colr. McKnight paid tribute to her predecessor in the role of councillor and said she hopes to make her own mark in the time to come.
While she has her graduation to look forward to next Monday (July 10), Caoimhe has had little time to rest on her laurels, and has wasted no time in getting involved in council business as a member of Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Business & Culture Committee and its Governance & Strategic Planning Committee.
After attending an Information Day on the Capital of Culture joint bid between Belfast and Derry, she holds the view that there is “massive potential for both cities.”
She adds that the new draft Strategic Growth Plan for the future of the council area is an exciting document that shows Derry & Strabane are thinking ahead and well placed for the future.
And speaking about the priorities for the Ballyarnett ward, she added: “There’s a lot of areas where there is help needed. There are plans for new community centres and facilities, but the area itself is heavily affected by the Tory austerity and myself, Sinn Fein and the other elected representatives are going to do their best to mitigate those effects.
“From growing up in the area, playing around Leafair, the pitches and the facilities were nowhere near what we have today.
“Also there are so many summer events in the area and I would ask people to keep an eye on social media as there are many summer schemes and family festivals going on.
“There have been some improvements, but a lot more needs to be done and Culmore is one of the focus areas that still needs facilities. There are works in progress and Sinn Fein is getting behind that.
“Also with the locality very close to the border, it is going to have a massive effect when Brexit comes into effect. Whether there is a hard border or soft border, it is going to affect the area.
“I have family members, friends, that travel up and down for work, friends that live over the border and come up here for work and they are already feeling the impact,” she maintained.
One thing Colr. McKnight is very proud of is the sense of community that exists in the Derry area generally. “Any time of crisis, people come together.
“Elisha led the way with the Syrian refugees and I also want to congratulate everybody who came together to make the recent Relay for Life such an outstanding success.
“And not only that, but we have had a lot of recent tragedies and you see the rallying together of people with Justgiving Pages and fundraising to make sure the family left behind are looked after.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the people of Derry. It’s fantastic to see and its phenomenal what the people of Derry can do.”