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New Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey vows to reach out to loyalists

By Connla Young

West Belfast’s newly elected Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey has told of his desire to reach out to loyalists within his constituency.

Mr Maskey revealed his hopes of holding a constituency surgery on the Shankill Road and said he received votes from every box opened during the by-election count.

Despite the record low 37.53% turnout for a local election, Mr Maskey still stormed to victory, mopping up over 70% of the ballots cast and claiming 16,221 votes.

Mr Maskey replaces party leader Gerry Adams, who resigned as MP last year to stand as a TD in Co Louth, where he was elected to the Dail.

The new MP said he hopes people of all political outlooks will come to him for help.

He said: “I got votes out of every box opened and I think that it’s great. I try to work, and the party tries to work, for as many people as possible. I don’t see any borders in West Belfast. People from every district, including the Shankill and Blacks Road, come to our offices. I would like to see a day when I can open a surgery on the Shankill Road.

“It is something I think would be a great step forward. I hope the people of the Shankill would come to seek advice from me or even offer me their advice, because I am believer in taking advice from people. I think it is very important to listen to people and I think it’s a mistake not to listen to people.”

Mr Maskey, who is also an MLA for West Belfast, said it was particularly satisfying to get votes from loyalist areas.

He said: “The satisfaction of getting votes across West Belfast is massive. People are endorsing Sinn Fein and me and that’s a good sign. I was elected to represent all and if I didn’t do that I would fail in my duty.”

Originally from Upper Meadow Street in north Belfast, Mr Maskey has lived in the west of the city for over 20 years. He entered electoral politics in 2001 as a councillor in Belfast City Hall.

From a tight-knit family, he said the appointment of his brother Alex as Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2003 was a highlight of his time there. The father-of-two also spoke proudly of his wife Patricia and children and admitted being a full-time politician can interfere with family life.

He said: “We are a very close family and they have been a big support to me, they are a very loyal family. They were all out helping me over the past few weeks, rapping doors and dropping leaflets, and I am very grateful for their support.

“Patricia has supported me through thick and thin and I have hardly been in the house. Aoife is 16 and doing her GCSEs and by entering this level of politics I have not always been there. My son Eamon recently married Lauren and they will be moving to America next week, so that will be a sad time for us. I have been very lucky they have given me their blessing to do what I want.”

Mr Maskey rejected any suggestion that Sinn Fein’s policy of not taking its seats at Westminster put the people of the constituency at a disadvantage.

He said: “The people of West Belfast aren’t stupid. They’re astute individuals and have sent a clear message out that they don’t think an MP should take their seat in Westminster. As an Irish republican I am not going to swear an oath of allegiance to the British Queen. But I’m going to work for everyone in West Belfast whether their identity is Irish or British.”

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