Belfast Telegraph

A welcome break for those who lost their seats ... and time to consider what next

 

By David Young

Five sitting Northern Ireland MPs lost their seats this week.

Last night, we spoke to some of them about life after Westminster.

Two Ulster Unionist MPs, Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott, lost their seats - Mr Kinahan to the DUP's Paul Girvan, and Mr Elliott to Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew.

Both the UUP men are former soldiers: Mr Elliott served in the UDR, and Mr Kinahan was an officer in the Blues and Royals.

Last night, Danny Kinahan (58) sounded a little relieved that the six-week election campaign was finally over.

"I've been in politics for 12 years and you just don't realise how much it weighs on you until that weight is lifted. I am literally enjoying the fact that I have a break. It is extremely unusual to find that I have a day when I have nothing planned," he said.

"Politics was 'all day every day', and there is so much I need to do at home: house, gardening, family...

"I'm going to just enjoy a break, and keep my eyes open for whatever might come my way.

"I've been very, very lucky. I loved what I was doing, so I want to try to find something that carries on helping Northern Ireland," he added.

The former South Antrim MP said he hoped to remain in public life. "I would love to, but you have to wait for doors to open - and look for doors to open."

For the moment, though, he is happy to spend some quality time with his family, and enjoy a little bit of freedom.

Three former SDLP MPs lost their seats on Thursday: Margaret Ritchie, Alasdair McDonnell and Mark Durkan. Last night, two of them talked to us about their plans.

Margaret Ritchie (59), the former South Down MP, said her immediate priority was to get some sleep after the exertions of the election campaign.

Ms Ritchie - who has been in politics since 1985, serving as MP for South Down since 2010 - said the process of winding down her parliamentary office would be at the forefront of her mind.

"I have winding down to do here with staff, and winding down to do with my office, which takes around eight weeks.

"You have to close your files and do all of that . Then I will be considering what I am going to do. As yet, I don't know.

"I haven't made any decisions.

"It's too early to say.

"Come back to me in a month, and see how I feel then," she said.

Former SDLP leader, Alasdair McDonnell (65), said the election result "probably gives me a bit more time to pursue some projects that I have in hand".

The SDLP veteran, who lost his South Belfast seat, said he was part of a cross-party, cross-community project whose aim is to co-ordinate Northern Ireland voices trying to "minimise the damage caused by Brexit".

"My passion is to ensure that there is a pragmatic and principled discussion with Europe, with Whitehall and with the Irish Government, so that Northern Ireland's interests are protected," he stated.

Dr McDonnell is also a founder of the Goliath Trust, working to raise funds to combat underachievement in education.

"With the hectic pace of life that I led as an MP, a holiday for me was a day at home.

"A day at home with my wife and children, the time and space to talk to them and just to do very little was really an escape, because when you are running to Westminster two, three or even four days a week, the week gets very short."

Will he stay in public life? "That decision hasn't yet been finalised," he responded, "but I'm not walking away. I have still a passion to play my part in making Northern Ireland work for everybody. Because if it doesn't work, we're all sunk."

Our new MPs: the five who captured seats

ELISHA McCALLION  Sinn Fein

Elisha McCallion (35) ousted former SDLP leader Mark Durkan in the Foyle constituency. She was first elected to Derry City Council on 2005, and to the NI Assembly in 2015. Ms McCallion is the niece of Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson.

EMMA LITTLE PENGELLY DUP

Emma Little Pengelly (37) the new MP for South Belfast is a former DUP Special Advisor and south Belfast MLA.

A barrister by profession, Ms Little Pengelly served as a junior Minister in Stormont’s Executive Office.

PAUL GIRVAN DUP

Paul Girvan (53) who has been elected as MP for South Antrim is a former Mayor of Newtownabbey and a former Stormont MLA for the area.

He is married to Antrim and Newtownabbey councillor Mandy Girvan.

MICHELLE GILDERNEW Sinn Fein

Michelle Gildernew (47), who has been elected to represent Fermanagh and South Tyrone, had previously held the seat from 2001-2014.

A former, MLA she also served as Stormont’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development.

CHRIS HAZZARD Sinn Fein

Chris Hazzard (32), who won the South Down seat, is a former Minister for Infrastructure at Stormont.

A keen GAA aficionado, Drumaness man Mr Hazzard was also Sinn Fein’s spokesman on education issues.

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