Derry and Strabane Council’s two new Alliance representatives believe local voters have had enough of “orange and green” politics.
Rachael Ferguson and Philip McKinney are both in no doubt that more and more people are sick of the tribalism that often passes for politics in Northern Ireland.
“It was one of the messages repeated to me time and time again on the doorsteps during the election campaign,” says Philip McKinney. “People really are sick of two party tribal politics here.
“Mindsets are changing. People look around them and see that our health service and education sector are under severe pressure and, yet, we still have no government at Stormont. This is unacceptable. The two main parties are responsible for this. Is it any wonder people voted the way they did in May.”
This is a view shared by Rachael Ferguson: “People definitely want to break the cycle of orange and green politics in Northern Ireland. They signalled their desire for alternatives in May’s election. It is, in my opinion, responsible for our success.”
Philip McKinney, a native of Belfast who has been living in the North West for more than 10 years, represents the Waterside electoral area on Council.
He says the challenge of being a local councillor is “a big one - but one that I’m more than ready for.”
“As new councillors, we have a lot to learn. From a personal point of view, I have to crawl before I can walk. This is the only way to learn. We have a good network of people around us and, believe me, there may be just the two of us, but we’ll make ourselves heard. We are not just here to make up the numbers.”
Rachael Ferguson, who represents the Faughan district on the local authority, is among a new cohort of young representatives on Council. She says her election came as a “complete shock”.
“To be honest, I’m very new to politics. I first expressed an interest in running for election back in January of this year and this was with a view to running in, perhaps, three or four years’ time. And, yet, just a matter of months later I was elected. Talk about a whirlwind.
“I’m under no illusion as to the challenge of the job. I know what’s expected of me. I’m up for the challenge and I am aiming to deliver.”
Both councillors recognise the ‘Naomi Long’ factor in their electoral success.
Rachael says: “Yes, Naomi - and her popularity among voters - played a big part in our success locally. As a councillor,MLA, MP and, now, MEP, she has held almost every political office and she has taken the party to a whole new level. She is surrounded by a team of talented and dedicated people and this is an important factor in recent successes.
“Crucially, she started off where we are starting off - as a councillor. She appreciates that working on the ground for the benefit of your constituents is what the job is all about.
“I have no worries that we will miss her in any way now that she is an MEP. She is always where she needs to be. She is tremendously hard-working and is very good at dividing her time.”
Philip McKinney agrees: “Naomi is from a working class background. She appeals to everyone - male and female, young and old. She is very articulate and her heart is in the right place. She’s a great leader and we can learn so much from her.”
Turning to their roles as councillors, both Rachael Ferguson and Philip McKinney realise that, as the first elected Alliance representatives in Derry and Strabane for almost 40 years, much is expected of them.
“I think that, if you are open and honest about what you do, people will be open and honest with you,” says Rachael. “This is what people expect of you as a councillor. If I am not able to fix your problem, I will get you to the point where I can put you in touch with someone who can help you. I see my job as trying to help people.”
Philip adds: “You’re elected to get things done. We’re here to support everyone across all communities. We’ll always do our best to help.”