Belfast Telegraph

Claire Hanna: People know I’m working and haven’t clocked off


Claire Hanna
Claire Hanna
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Claire Hanna, SDLP MLA for South Belfast:

I usually get up really early and go for a run or have a half-hour catch-up on work matters before I get my three kids up.

After the chaos of getting them washed, fed, and out the door to school with all their correct kits, I head to my constituency office.

I’ll talk to Ruairi, my case worker, who specialises in issues around housing, social welfare, special educational needs and care packages.

There would normally be five to 10 new items to deal with every day. We get a lot of housing cases.

Some matters like flooding, or disturbances in the Holyland, could dominate the whole day.

I’ll go through a mountain of emails that have come in with Laura, who also works in the office. If there’s a big Brexit issue, I may be asked to do media work. It takes time to prepare, to read the relevant material and get up-to-date with the story.

Most days I’ll have surgery appointments where people come in for one-to-one meetings. These could be on anything from immigration and disputes about wills to planning applications.

Increasingly, people with mental health issues come in with difficulties which are having a big affect on them. They don’t know where else to turn.

I can’t solve every problem and I can’t put people’s lives back together, but I try to unblock bureaucracy and signpost them in the right direction.

Some days, I’ll have meetings on long-running policy issues like international development or support for the arts.

Occasionally, I’ve had to take a child or two to meetings, so I never leave the house without colouring pencils in my bag.

I’m usually in Stormont once a week. If any south Belfast schools are visiting, I try to attend. It’s something I love doing.

I work two or three evenings a week — maybe a community meeting, joining a panel discussion, or out canvassing.

I live in the area I represent. I always have done. The everyday conversations with people when I’m out and about are hugely important to me.

Some people on social media have been negative and nasty about MLAs now that the Assembly isn’t meeting, but the constituents I meet in the flesh are never rude. When they see you they know you’re still working and you haven’t clocked off.

People tell me how frustrated and fed up they are that the institutions aren’t functioning and I totally get it.

At the moment, there are a lot of questions about Brexit, too.

I was on the Lagan towpath at the weekend with the kids and a good few people stopped to ask me about the backstop and Boris Johnson’s plans.

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