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I’ve miscarried twice, the pain was horrendous and never leaves you... If it’s God’s plan, I’d still like to have children

By Claire McNeilly

The most personal and probing interviews: DUP's Carla Lockhart on being inspired by Peter Robinson... and dealing with trolls who likened her to a horse.

Q. Tell us about your family.

A. My mum Valerie (55) is a clerical officer and my dad Kenneth (60) installs milking parlours. My sister Leanne (33) is a primary school teacher. She has two children - three-year-old Jamie and Hollie-May, who's one. My brother (24) Andrew, an electrician, is getting married on July 14 this year. My brother, sister and I do a little bit of gospel singing at local churches a couple of times a month as 'The Lockhart Family', but we're far from professional.

Q. You grew up in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone. What was your childhood like?

AI was brought up in a Christian home. I wasn't reared with a silver spoon in my mouth. I'm very proud to be working class. I'm someone who knows the value of hard work. When we were growing up we always went to Castlerock on family holidays; I loved that. Mum and Dad taught us right from wrong and they've been a great support throughout my political career.

Q. You were a member of the DUP's Young Democrats for years. Is that what got you into politics?

A. I've always had a keen interest - and while other kids had pictures of Peter Andre and other celebs on their wall, I had election posters of Dr Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson...

Q. You're married to Rodney Condell (41), a self-employed quantity surveyor and part-time farmer. Were you instantly smitten?

A. It wasn't love at first sight; we met through church circles and were together seven years before we got married - six years ago on August 10, 2011.

Q. You attended Lisfearty PS Dungannon and Aughnacloy High School before going to Armagh Tech (now part of Southern Regional College) and then obtaining a business degree from the University of Ulster. Any abiding memories?

A. I had lots of friends and I really enjoyed my time at school. But when I only managed a C2 in my 11-Plus, one of the teachers told me that I'd failed myself, my family and the school. I decided that I was going to work hard and prove that I wasn't a failure. I came out of university with a 2:1 degree. Now I think that particular teacher - whom I've since met in social circles - is very proud of my achievements. She has probably forgotten that she even said that, but it was a pivotal point in my life.

Q. You did your work experience with Peter and Iris Robinson. How influential were they, and how did you feel about the scandal which later engulfed them?

A. I stayed in their home for a week, which was amazing. Peter has always been a great help. Iris was a fantastic constituency worker and I learned a lot from both of them. It's not for me to comment on their personal issues.

Q. You've been described as a workaholic. As Craigavon's youngest ever Mayor (aged 27) you are said to have attended more events than any of your predecessors. Is that true?

A. That's 100% true. I attended 765 events (I had a very good, experienced secretary who kept me right) and held down a full-time job. That was the year after I got married, so I felt I had to do my duties as a housewife too. When we got married I told Rodney that I'd be making his dinner in the evenings; now it's a case of me telling him to see what his mum has on! You know when you think you're going to be the star wife... I'm far from it.

Q. You have suffered the terrible trauma of miscarriage twice. How are you coping now?

A. It's something that never leaves you. The first time I miscarried it was at 11 weeks in 2013; the second time, three years ago, I was only six or seven weeks pregnant. On both occasions it happened at home. The pain and turmoil was horrendous. It's a life experience and there are many days when that life experience is more prevalent than others. But obviously God has a different plan for me and Rodney and I have to trust in Him with regard to when and if I'm able to have a family.

When Stormont gets back up and running, it's my desire to ensure that the services for women who experience miscarriage are significantly improved.

Q. How did you deal with those dark days? And do you still hope to have children?

A. I just threw myself into work and talked to Rodney. He was very good about it, as was my mum. I'm someone who likes to keep busy and active and I definitely worked through it, quite literally. If it's God's plan, we would like children; I'd be more than happy with one. My experiences have definitely helped shape my political opinions around the preciousness of life.

Q. You were the victim of social media abuse about your looks after stating that you are against same-sex marriage. Did that get you down?

A. I get abuse on social media all the time. They attack my teeth. They call me Shergar, they ask if my mother fed me through bars and if I was dropped as a child and they use the wee horse emoji. It annoys me more that my family sees it. It's the nature of political life. When you put yourself out there, and people don't appreciate your view on something, they sometimes attack your personal appearance. I'm pretty thick-skinned, though. If someone resorts to personal insults they've lost the argument.

Q. You were brought up in a strict Free Presbyterian household, attending church twice on Sundays. What does God mean to you?

A. He is at the centre of it all. I'm just so thankful that He has been the strength and the rock that has helped me through my political and personal challenges. I have a strong faith and that plays a big role in my political life.

Q. Who is your best Catholic friend?

A. I have lots of friends from every tradition and community.

Q. What's the most important piece of advice you've ever been given?

A. Never stand on anyone on your way up, because you'll meet them on the way back down. I try to treat everyone with respect and dignity.

Q. What do you enjoy doing outside politics?

A. I love spending time with my niece Hollie-May and nephew Jamie and I enjoy sneaky coffees with my sister and my mum. I love to be at home on a Saturday night and light the fire.

Q. If you were in trouble, who is the one person you would you turn to?

A. Probably my mum. She's honest; she'll not tell you what you want to hear, she'll tell you exactly what you need to hear.

Q. Who was your biggest inspiration growing up?

A. I was very close to both my grannies. My granny Mary Lockhart was a big influence on my life. She died, in her late 80s, three years ago. I used to stay with her quite a bit and she always had snippets of advice. She was a lady of great faith, a real prayer warrior.

My mum's mother, granny Georgina Coote, was in her 70s when she passed away. She kept my feet on the ground. She told me never to get above my station and to remember where I come from.

Q. Does death frighten you?

A. No, as a Christian I believe that there's eternal life after you die and therefore I've no fear.

Q. Tell us about the best day of your life.

A. I would need to say it was the day I got married, but the days when I was elected - my greatest achievements so far - are up there too.

Q. Briefly talk us through your career to date.

A. I started working for DUP MLA Stephen Moutray in June 2005 as an assistant and political researcher. Six months later, aged 22, I was co-opted onto Craigavon Borough Council in place of Fergie Dawson, who died suddenly.

My first council election was in 2011; I got 942 votes. In 2012-13 I was mayor, and in 2013 I was elected to the new 'super council'. I managed David Simpson's successful 2014 Westminster campaign. Then I put my name in the hat for the Assembly and was selected in May 2016. I topped the poll with 7,993 votes.

I remember saying to Rodney in January that it would be lovely not to have an election this year... and then we were faced with another one. I was nervous going into that - it was physically and emotionally very challenging. But again I was elected on the first count with an increased majority vote; I got 9,142. Those numbers are imprinted in my mind.

Q. Do you aspire to be DUP leader?

A. Definitely not. I look up to our current leader. I think Arlene Foster is a superb, strong, feisty lady and someone who's been a great support to me and to all women in politics.

Q. Is politics more difficult for women?

A. I'm not a feminist, but I think women have to work doubly hard to prove themselves. It can be difficult juggling a family life with politics but, if you're capable of doing the job, just get on with it.

Q. You're once again in charge of Mr Simpson's Westminster campaign. Were you responsible for the election leaflets which incorrectly stated that he'd visited troops in Afghanistan?

A. I'm not taking the blame for that. It was an error that was carried through from years ago. David's commitment to the armed forces has been commendable. He visited the troops in Iraq, as opposed to Afghanistan.

Q. Your sister-in-law's husband is a farmer and is involved in the RHI scheme. Was that politically uncomfortable for you?

A. No. Many applied to a scheme that was flawed. He's done nothing wrong.

Q. What is the biggest problem facing Northern Ireland today?

A. After Manchester, the terrorists might just look across the Irish Sea and see us as a target, so I think it's both terrorism and the fact that we've no functioning executive. I'm constantly dealing with people on long waiting lists, for whom treatment is a matter of life and death. We need a functioning Executive to address these day-to-day issues.

Q. Is there still a sectarian divide here?

A. The recent elections and political unrest have opened old wounds, which is most unfortunate. I want to make Northern Ireland a better place to live, work and do business. I want our children to have a good education and health care system but I'm also very conscious that there are deep wounds from the past and we have innocent victims who have never got justice. It's important that we don't rewrite the past in a bid to progress the future.

Q. Which politician on the so-called "other side" do you admire most?

A. I think that we have all the good ones...

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