New councillor Aileen Mellon sees youth and isolation as a key focus
Derry's newest councillor, Aileen Mellon, only joined Sinn FÃ©in last year.
But as her co-option to Derry City & Strabane District Council was rubberstamped by the Electoral Office this week the 30-year-old said it was a natural progression from her work in the community sector.
The Galliagh woman, who will officially take her Ballyarnett District Electoral Area seat at DC&SDC’s full meeting for November next Thursday, is looking forward to the challenge.
“For me my main priority and my main goal is to support the people of my area,” said Ms. Mellon.
“That’s my goal. That’s what I’m going to be putting all my efforts into. If there’s any way I can help or offer support I will be doing it.
“I’m there to do a job and I’m not going to shy away from anything that’s needed. I want to make a difference to my community,” she pledged.
Remarkably, Ms. Mellon will soon be the 47th councillor to have served on the new 40 seat Derry City & Strabane District Council since it was elected for the first time in 2014.
She’s no less than the seventh councillor to have been co-opted to the authority and will replace Conchúr McCauley who stood down last month having only been co-opted himself to replace veteran republican Tony Hassan in February of this year.
Notwithstanding this flux and the fact that she is a new face on the Council Ms. Mellon is very much a part of the furniture in the Galliagh area.
A long-standing youth worker for the Off the Streets Community Youth Initiative she believes that her newly incumbent position as a local councillor will help her continue her work dispelling the unfairly negative perceptions of local young people and encouraging them to become active leaders and role models.
“When I was growing up I always went to different youth organisations like Off the Streets.
“I loved it. I loved growing up in Galliagh. It was a real community.
“I got involved in Off the Streets as a young person when I was 10 or 11. Now I’m 30 and I’m still there. I’ve been there as a young person, as a volunteer and as a worker. So I really know what it means for the people down there.
“I think that’s what a lot of people are looking for for the young people. For someone to listen. That’s what I benefited from.”
Over the years Galliagh has suffered from what Ms. Mellon and fellow members of the local Sinn Féin cumann who selected her for co-option this month have viewed as an unacceptable lack of investment.
For Ms. Mellon things have been improving. But for her, it’s a case of ‘lots done, more to do’.
“It’s seems to be going in the right direction. We’re not overserved by any means but it’s really good to see the planning going ahead for the new community centre. It’s a long time coming and something that’s been needed for years but it’s looking bright.
"For me it’s all about resources and infrastructure and things like that. Galliagh needs more services as well as the resources to back them up.”
While her primary focus as a youth and community worker has been on young people, Ms. Mellon has also identified loneliness, something that can be experienced across all age groups but especially among the older generation, as something that shouldn’t, but does, exist in the area.
“There’s a lot of isolation and that can be through any age range. We need to tackle isolation and increase services for young people. Those I think would be among by main priorities.”
Having been born and reared in Galliagh she wants the community to thrive.
“I still live in Galliagh. I’m raising my son Noah, aged 4, there and I wouldn’t want to raise him anywhere else. I love the area. The people are friendly.
Sometimes it gets a bad Press but 95 per cent of the people in the community are positive, encouraging and supportive to their neighbours. They want the best for their area.
For me representing them and building on what we have here will by my focus. The real community spirit’s still there it just needs the resources and it deserves it.”
Alongside group leader, Sandra Duffy, and Caoimhe McKnight, she is now a member of an all-female Sinn Féin team in Ballyarnett.
“Women in politics are leading the way and I am happy to be a part of it. Sinn Féin’s giving people the platform and are opening the doors. Women are there anyway.”