One of the SDLP’s longest serving elected representatives has announced his retirement from politics.
Pat Ramsey is to depart the political arena with almost immedaite effect on health grounds and in particular a dengenerative spinal issue which will require surgery and which has quickened his decision to leave his position as a MLA.
“Travelling two hours every day up and down to Belfast is also beginning to take its toll,” he told the ‘Journal’.
Mr Ramsey has agreed to exit the Stormont stage officially on December 31 and his departure from political life has triggered a snap selection convention to choose his successor which will be held around the middle of this month. His replacement will have little time to settle in before facing Assembly elections scheduled for May next year.
Pat Ramsey has spent over three decades in public service and has held highly significant posts within the SDLP. He has been an MLA since 2003 and SDLP Chief Whip since 2009 as well as having been director of elections for former party leader John Hume both at Westminster and European polls. He also served as Mayor of Derry in 1999. He also represented the city on inward investment trips to Washington, Massachusetts and Arizona during term as Mayor.
In all he served 18 years on the local authority and was the SDLP group leader there.
As a youth worker attached to St Eugene’s Parish Hall in the late 1970s he witnessed first hand the effect of the daily and increasingly worsening violence of the ‘Troubles’ was having on his own community in the Bogside. However, he says that he was not moved to act through any great love of political ideology but instead by a desire to help people.
“These were the years leading up to the hunger strike and I was trying my best to keep young people away from violence and from joining paramilitary groups. The fact was that after Bloody Sunday entire families went one way or the other. I tried to keep them off the streets and not to become involved,” said Pat.
It would appear however that politics was already in the genetic make-up of the future politician. Pat Ramsey’s grandfather served on the old Derry Corporation.
“He was called Patrick Healey and was very much to the forefront of labour politics, so I suppose it was in the genes. I looked around and saw John Hume’s commitment to non-violence and followed that pathway. It wasn’t through any sense of a strating on a philosophical journey, but simply to follow the peaceful path,” said Pat.
“I was elected to Council around the same time that the Sinn Fein political machine came about and I was a believer in the power sharing arrangements we had there, which was Johh Hume’s idea from back in the 1970s,” he continued.
As in every other walk of life, a career in politics brings it share of high and low points. Pat Ramsey contends that it was his year as Mayor of Derry in 1999 that brought him most satisfaction.
Pat said: “That year in particular stands out, especially my introduction of the concept of ‘Junior Mayor’. We had young people from both traditions shadowing us, from the Fountain and from Creggan. A low point that year was the almost £2 million worth of damage caused in Derry in riots around the parades season.
“Whilst we still under direct rule I also started the Pride in our City campaign. It represented a move away from the negavitive view of Derry and was massively well received in schools.”
Having been born and raised in the Bogside, Pat lived for many years at Meenan Square. However in the days before widespread nationalist acceptance of Northern Ireland’s police force, his stance on acts of violence and support for the PSNI saw his home regularly attacked.
“Altogether there were 23 incidents. Some might say they were hoaxes, but then they weren’t the target of the attacks. There were three petrol bomb attacks and they definitely weren’t hoaxes,” said Pat.
In the end, the strain of these attacks took their toll and Pat reluctantly moved to the Waterside.
He said: “It had become a habit, it developed into a pattern. It drained my family and my neighbours and we all became leg weary with it especially on a lot of older neighbours that I’d known a lifetime.”
Whilst the ultimate responsibility of MLA’s is to draft legislation, Pat Ramsey says it was his involvement in all-party groupings at Stormont aimed at helping those with disabilities.
“As I said, I got involved to help people improve their quality of life and most importantly helping individual people who came through my office door.”
Taking an oveall view of his days in politics Pat told the ‘Journal’: “I was always able to motivate myself to work, but the frustration was unreal at times. As I leave, many of same issues in relation to Derry are still there-lack of transport infrastructure, youth unemployment, the levels of which in this city are embarrassing. I worked closely with Arlene Foster and Stephen Farry on social development.
“The detox issue is one that has also bugged me for so long. You can only speak from experience and I had a brother who was an alcoholic, so when I was mayor a local charity closed down and handed over £20,000 and allowed us to set up Foyle Haven to help street drinkers in the city.”
Pat also said: “During difficult when the house was being attacked I joined Cursillo at Termonbacca and it renewed my Catholic faith and it’s very important to me. Now that I am retiring it will be good to have the time to give something back.
“My wish now is to spend time with my family, I owe them, my wife Chris especially, a debt of gratitude. They have been by my side every step of this at times difficult, but ultimately rewarding journey; for that, I could never thank them enough,” said Pat.
Pat’s former Parliamentary Adviser at Stormont, Emmet Doyle told the ‘Journal’: “Pat has been a figure on the political landscape in Derry for my entire lifetime and then some, it will be strange not to have him defending our interests in the Assembly.
“There is a little known picture of Pat and I when he was Mayor (and I was 11) presenting me with an award, so it seemed surreal to be at his side so many years later as his adviser. Politics is, despite what we might see regularly, very personal.
“I was proud to witness all the times Pat showed leadership and conviction even in the most difficult of circumstances, for example in trying to address prisoner issues.
“His passion for all things local, however, is how Pat’s career will be remembered. A man from the Bog who commanded so much respect in the City and in Stormont, from doorkeepers to Ministers.
“He had the most unique ability to communicate across the political divide, and always knew how to work Derry into a conversation.
“ It was my greatest honour to serve him and the constituency and to learn from him. I wish him, Chris and all the family the very best for the future, he has left a legacy that they can all be proud of.”