Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson was appointed as a junior minister in the Stormont Executive just over six months ago and in that time she says she has been impressed by the leadership shown by the First and Deputy First Ministers.
Ms Anderson, a junior minister at the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, said the Executive is responding to the needs of the people of Derry and delivering on its commitments.
The Foyle MLA was appointed to the Executive, to join fellow Derry native, Martin McGuinness, following the May elections and has said that having two local voices around the table is good for the north west.
“In my experience as an MLA since 2007 when I was elected I have had a particular focus on this city but that said I have always been conscious of inequalities across the North. Prior to 2007 I carried national briefs for the party so having a more strategic overview of what was happening was not a big transition once I was given the ministerial brief.
“I also know that having two ministers from the city, myself and Martin McGuinness, at the Executive table, ensures the case for Derry is always being made,” she said.
The junior minister said that when she attended her first Executive meeting at Stormont Castle she was impressed by the relationships between the ministers. “At my first Executive meeting I sat grinning. It wasn’t cause I was pleased to be there as a minister. I started to grin because of the leadership being given by Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson. I was surprised myself at the level of leadership, not just from Martin, but from both of them, working in partnership, and with mutual respect. There is also the banter and engagement between ministers. It is something that even as an MLA in the Assembly you don’t see.
“The relationships with the other ministers are great, even though Stephen Farry tries to avoid me when he sees me making a beeline for him every Monday morning because he knows I will be bending his ear about Magee!” she said.
Ms Anderson said the inclusion of the ‘One Plan’ for the regeneration of Derry in the Programme for Government is evidence of the Executive’s commitment to the north west. “When you look at the Programme for Government which includes the non-statutory ‘One Plan’ coming from this city, and involved more than one thousand people from across the region, and the investment strategy, which is a unique ground breaking exercise, it is clear that Derry is high on the agenda.
“I have had people from other constituencies across the North asking me, ‘What is this ‘One Plan’ and how did it get into the Programme for Government?’ I tell them that it was achieved with will, determination, drive, and two years of hard work
“When we got it into the Programme for Government we were there to one o’clock in the morning. Our officials were there to five o’clock getting it printed, Martin and Peter went straight into the Chamber the next morning with myself and Jonathon and the following Thursday the ‘One Plan’ was on the agenda for the Executive meeting. We then got officials from every department to work with Ilex to try and align the policy with the plan,” she explained.
The Sinn Féin MLA acknowledged that it can be difficult at times to balance the duties of an MLA and a minister but said that the two roles compliment each other.
“I believe I have balanced representing the people of Derry who elected me as an MLA with representing people across the North as a minister. I travel all over the place, into different areas, to address all constituencies, people outside of the community which elects me. And I do that to the best of my ability.
“But in spite of all of that, you would need to chisel my love of Derry out of me and the desire to make sure the people of Derry get the best deal they can. I am quite precious generally about keeping Fridays for the city. Whatever I am doing as a minister I am also thinking of how I can filter this through to Derry. I am quite precious generally about keeping Fridays for the city,” she explained.
With a busy schedule at Stormont, Ms Anderson said she has little time for other activities but is committed to learning Irish as part of the Liofa campaign. “In the middle of everything, the Liofa 2015 strategy was launched, and I’ve signed up for it. I am listening to my tapes every day. When I was in jail I could not type and someone told me that if I do it for 15 minutes every day it will improve. I am trying to apply the same lesson to learning Irish. When I am travelling up the road in the morning and coming back to Derry again at night I try to learn the Irish. I am learning from the tapes and my headphones have become my best friend. I have made a pledge and am doing my best to keep it.
“Outside of that the most important person in the middle of all that is my mother. Any spare time that I have is devoted to her,” she said.