Interview with new MLA Pádraig Delargy - ‘There is a mental health crisis in Derry...people’s voices must be heard’
Pádraig Delargy grew up next door to the late John and Pat Hume in West End Park.
Upon the latter’s passing in September he paid tribute in one of his first contributions at Stormont.
“Pat was a next-door neighbour of ours for over 20 years. I will always remember her as a kind and generous person and a very good family friend.”
Growing up as he did in that particular locale, where the Bogside and Creggan meet, it is not surprising Mr. Delargy became involved in politics.
From West End Park you could throw a blanket over the residences of several figures whose names have become synonymous with Derry over the past tumultuous sixty years - the Humes, Martin McGuinness and Eamonn McCann, for instance.
“It’s really interesting looking at Westland and Westend particularly,” the 25-year-old primary school teacher turned politician told the ‘Journal’.
“You had John Hume next door to us, Eamonn McCann two streets away and Martin three streets away. There were a lot of big political characters within the area. Even from primary school you always would have had that knowledge and awareness of that.
“I suppose from then my interest in politics grew. I did my degree at Queen’s in history but I always would have had a particular interest in politics and particularly Irish politics.”
Though only in his middle 20s Mr. Delargy has been an activist for at least a decade now having joined Ógra Shinn Féin when he was just 15 years of age.
“I would have been involved in Ógra nationally and locally. I would have taken part, particularly within the Moor ward, in strategy groups and planning and I suppose particularly for me it has always been about activism.
“It is one of the things that attracted me to Sinn Féin in the first place. Sinn Féin are rooted in the community. Everything we do, there is a tangible link to making life better for ordinary people.”
Mr. Delargy believes his work in the education sector has given him an insight into what matters to local communities and what supports are needed for young people especially.
“Anything I’ve done is about helping people and being rooted in the community. With teaching it was very much linked to those values of helping people, particularly younger people.”
A major priority for the young Assembly member is mental health. Mr. Delargy is the nephew of the late St. Columb’s College schoolteacher Patricia Hughes who died suddenly in 2016 and he has been instrumental in the establishment of a bursary in her name that helps low-income students through university.
“I’ve done a lot of work in mental health previously. We started the bursary scheme in memory of my aunt Patricia Hughes, who taught down in St. Columb’s and who died in 2016. We started the bursary in 2018.
“We’ve been running that since, working very closely with the school, and we very recently selected the new recipient for this year. It has now been going for four years and it has been very, very successful so far.”
Mr. Delargy said he is absolutely committed to the task of realising a first class mental health service for Derry.
“For us it is very much about delivering, about getting stuff done and making a difference to people’s lives.”
To this end he was recently involved in the organisation of a mental health event that brought over 40 charities and statutory groups together.
“The basis of that is we are going to make sure that those groups who are actually working on the frontline inform what we are doing and they are very much listened to and their voices are heard in Stormont. There is a mental health crisis in the town and we are very keen as a party that people in Derry have their voices heard.
“I’m coming here as someone whose family has been impacted by suicide and I want to make that change at Stormont. I’m not coming with all the answers.
“People working on the frontline and working day-to-day with it, they are the people with the answers. It is very much for us about listening and finding solutions.”
Though Mr. Delargy had a variety of political role models to look up to during his formative years he chose to join Sinn Féin. He told the ‘Journal’ that this was due to its all-island ambitions.
“We are the only party who are looking at a United Ireland solution. That, in itself, offers an amazing potential, particularly for Derry.
“We all know the story - that for decades there has been underinvestment. What we want to do now is change that narrative and make sure that Derry is a gateway into the north west, that it is a strategic hub in this region.”
With respect to the party’s ultimate raison d’être - the reunification of the country - Mr. Delargy is convinced that the island is nearing a period of fundamental and transformative change.
“It is such an exciting time to be a republican. We are looking now at a United Ireland.
“We are at the stage now where we are not talking about it, we are planning for it and we are having those conversations
“It is a fantastic time and it is such an honour and a privilege to be able to represent the party, particularly during this time.
“When you see the magnitude of what is in front of us and you see the chance to have a border poll and win it in the coming years, it is so exciting.
“Within the next number of years we are looking at being in government north and south. We are seeing a lot of support for Sinn Féin, particularly among the younger generation.”