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'I'm not allowed to vote for my husband, but I'd certainly consider myself a unionist'

By Liam Clarke

Firuza McCune is one canvasser who can't vote - but wishes she could.

Ms McCune, nee Karimova, is the wife of Rodney McCune, the UUP candidate in South Belfast, has become a convinced unionist herself, but can't vote for her husband because she is a citizen of Uzbekistan.

"I may be the only Uzbek in Northern Ireland - I have never met another one," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

The couple met in London when Firuza was studying IT and Rodney was practising at the criminal bar. The young lawyer's chat-up line surprised her but it worked.

"The best thing about meeting Rodney, which I really remember, is falling in love with him because of his knowledge and his interests in people generally. His first line left me gobsmacked and I still remember it. 'I know all about Uzbekistan. Genghis Khan was there', he said."

She went on: "When you say you are from Uzbekistan many people think of Pakistan or some other country. What impressed me was that Rodney knew a lot about my culture, some things I didn't. He had studied Russian law and Uzbekistan is a former Soviet Republic so I can speak Russian. He was interesting. I was completely hooked!" she recalled.

The 13th century Mongol Conqueror continued as matchmaker. "Next day we met up and he got me a book about Genghis Khan. To my shame I was reading about him for the first time. So Rodney gave me my history back."

He soon turned to books about Northern Ireland. Three years ago the couple moved here but was the birth of their son Charlie that convinced Firuza to stay.

"The first thing that made me realise this is the right place to settle was Charlie's birth. We went to the Royal Victoria and the support and care was just amazing. It was almost like private medicine and the post-natal care could have been my gran looking after me," she said.

There is plenty more she likes about the place. "You get more value for money here in terms of property. Public transport is good; we cycle a lot and use trains and buses for places we can't reach by bike. Nursery and childcare cost is a lot less compared to London.

"I really like people, that is my thing. In big cities you might not know many people but here generally people are interested in you, they will stop and talk. You see it everywhere you go. In cafes and shops people ask how you are getting on. They don't in London," she said.

On politics she says: "I am very liberal in my views and I would consider myself unionist. I have attended some meetings. Economically and every way the Union makes sense so why would you change something that works?

"One reason we feel we like it here is the education system. It is not all about me anymore, it is about the next generation and Northern Ireland has got a lot to offer."

You don't often hear that from the locals but her husband agrees. A successful barrister who had just won a difficult murder trial in the Old Bailey, it meant a pay cut when he gave it up to become special adviser to Danny Kennedy, the DRD minister.

He isn't particularly well known outside the Stormont bubble where he works, but he and his father Roy, a former police officer, have been a backroom influence on the UUP for years.

When he was born 38 years ago, the family were members of Alexandra Presbyterian Church in north Belfast. There Rev Martin Smyth, who later became MP for South Belfast, was the minister who baptised him.

"Martin actually recruited me to the UUP. We had 10 MPs and he was the chief whip. I wrote to him in London saying I was a student and I wouldn't mind being able to help out. He replied very quickly and I later worked for him in Westminster," he recalled.

He faces a tough fight. The favourite is Dr Alasdair McDonnell of the SDLP, who is the sitting MP and gets some cross-community votes, followed by Jonathan Bell of the DUP and Mairtin O Muilleoir of Sinn Fein. To beat them he would need to take Dr McDonnell's Protestant votes and also take liberal unionist votes off Mr Bell, a right-winger of strong born-again Christian views.

Belfast Telegraph


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