Maeve’s rising to the MLA challenge

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At the minute, Maeve McLaughlin walks through a toddler filled creche to get to her office in the Glenview Community Association in Rosemount. She won’t have that mini obstacle course to contend with when she takes up her seat at Stormont but she knows very well that life as an MLA will be fun and games of a very different nature.

She concedes that replacing Martina Anderson will be challenging. She says she has big boots to fill, but those who know her would probably say there’s no better woman for the job. Steeped in the local community where she’s worked all her life, as a politics, history and sociology graduate Maeve also admits to having an interest in policy and strategy - areas she hopes to be able to make an impact on as an MLA.

When she officially takes up her position in the coming weeks, the 43-year-old will make the trip to Stormont four times a week. It’s a journey she probably would never have imagined making growing up in the Bogside at the height of The Troubles.

She was, she says, like thousands of others, born into the middle of the conflict. But within that Maeve was also born at a time of unthinkable tragedy for her own family. Hours after giving birth to her, Maeve’s mother, also Maeve, died in hospital during complications. A mother of eleven, the Creggan woman left behind an unthinkable gap in the lives of her husband Peter, a local jazz musician and her young children.

Maeve speaks of her late father fondly. She recalls how he handled the horrific loss he experienced with with the sense of strength and good humour which characterised the spirit of Derry at the time.

It was her great aunt and uncle, Katie and Richard McDaid, who influenced Maeve most as she grew up.

What had started out as a short term visit ended up shaping Maeve’s entire childhood. She had been staying with the McDaids when Richard died of a condition suspected to have been connected to the use of CS gas during Bloody Sunday.

“After Richard died, there was no question of me being taken away from Katie,” says Maeve,

She has nothing but admiration for the woman who then became her role model and filled at least some of the void which had been left by the untimely death of her mother.

“Katie was an amazing woman and a real role model,” says Maeve,

“I have no doubt that growing up, with her in The Bogside, made me the person I am today.”

A key event in Maeve’s childhood was the death of her cousin, 21-year-old Denis Heaney, who was shot dead by a British Army soldier in 1978.

“The Saturday before he’d been teaching me how to ride a bike and the next Saturday, he was dead,” she says.

“That had a huge impact on me. Then, of course, we had Bloody Sunday and we were watching people we knew go to jail. I think for me at that point it was a choice between choosing to answer questions, or choosing to ignore them and it was pretty much a natural progression that I’d get involved in republicanism from there on,

“I got involved at a young age and was a founder member of the Gasyard Feile, I was on the Bloody Sunday organising committee as well and I started to get involved at Dove House.

In 1992, Maeve moved to Galway and began studying for her degree in Politics, History and Sociology. She graduated in 1995. “For me, it was a chance to put analysis on the views I had,” she says,

“It was an interesting time to be at university in Galway because it was during the ceasefire period and it was interesting to hear some of the views from some of the sectors of the 26 counties. At that time, we were very much considered ‘The Black North’ and people didn’t want to talk about what was going on up here. They saw it as just being about religion. One of the things which changed that perception, in my view, was the appearance of Gerry Adams on the ‘Late Late Show’. When things like that happened, more and more people came on board and engaged with the human rights issue. In college at that time there would have been campaigning around the Beechmount Five and the Ballymurphy Seven.”

After graduating, Maeve’s involvement in republican politics began when she started working as a PA for Mary Nelis in the Assembly. She’s quick to point out that her experience of Stormont then will have very little to do with the job currently ahead of her.

“It’s a different animal now,” she says.

One thing she is sure of however is the fact that her on the ground experience in the Glenview Community Association will be a major benefit to her going forward. As she prepares to hand over the reins and take her seat in the Assembly, she’s proud of a number of achievements.

“A lot of the stuff I set out to do - I’ve done,” she says,

“In terms of the physical regeneration we now have a playpark, we have plans agreed for a community building and 53 new houses and Doire Cholmcille are about to go onsite at Lowry’s Field. We have a lot done but there is more to do here and I’m happy to hand over now to someone else.”

The former Northlands Councillor is adopting an equally pragmatic approach to her role as an MLA.

“For me, the Assembly has to deliver to people and it should be about making politics work on that level. It’s a difficult task and a bit of a high wire act when it comes to breaking down that bureacracy within the structures of the Assembly.

“I feel sad about leaving the structures here but my new role will allow me to concentrate on strategy and policy and influence policy and decisions. I have big boots to fill but I’ve worked closely with Martina and I’m determined and committed to do that.

“When the idea of becoming an MLA was first put to me, surprisingly, I didn’t run a mile. It’s just a another kind of work. It will be different but essentially I want people to know that they can use me as a person who can raise issues and work for them.

“I’m up for the challenge,” she smiles.