Belfast Telegraph

Danny Kennedy went from high office to dole - what happened to other MLAs?

By Mark Edwards

A former employment minister who was forced to sign on the dole after losing his Assembly seat has described his experience of heading to the benefits office for the first time.

Danny Kennedy, who had been an Ulster Unionist MLA since 1998 and previously held the post of Minister for the Department of Employment and Learning, was one of several high-profile politicians not returned in March.

Mr Kennedy was ousted from his Newry and Armagh constituency seat by Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy in a particularly divisive election campaign, later described as a battle between 'orange and green'.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Kennedy said: "Once you lose your seat you're effectively unemployed, so I found myself in that position for the first time in 39 years.

"I have always been fortunate enough to have full employment over those years, even before I went into full-time politics.

"But that is the system, lots of people have been and are in that situation, this is not a 'feel sorry for Danny Kennedy' story, it's just the reality of life when you lose your job."

The former Ulster Unionist deputy leader registered for Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) in July and said his visit to the Newry Jobs & Benefits office was the first time he had been there since his stint as Employment Minister.

He said: "The staff were very professional and cordial but I was given no special treatment. I was professionally dealt with and the system was explained.

"Having made contributions through my tax payments and National Insurance contributions for 39 years, I am entitled to apply for and receive JSA for a limited period."

He added: "Each experience (of unemployment) is unique to the individual, no one seeks to be unemployed. I had been very fortunate that it was an experience I have not had until now.

"I suppose there is a degree of humility involved but I'm not different to anyone else.

"I am seeking employment, this is not about money. This is not about how down I feel, I'm actively seeking further employment because I feel I still have a contribution to make."

Mr Kennedy, who is still a senior member of the UUP, would not be drawn on what sort of work he is looking for but admitted he would consider re-entering politics if an opportunity arose.

However, he expressed concern that the Stormont Assembly was not up and running at present.

He added: "The political situation is upside down at the moment and that is very frustrating as a citizen to observe. Whether or not there will be further opportunities in politics we will have to wait and see, but I can't sit around and do nothing until that situation emerges. I want to see if there are other options available.

"This is an experience that many people have, it shouldn't really be different for Danny Kennedy than anyone else because of the fact I have a public profile or the fact at one stage in my career I was Minister for Employment and Learning and in one of the few visits to Newry Jobs & Benefits, I went as minister.

"When unemployment comes to individuals we are all faced with the same challenges."

Mr Kennedy also served as Minister for Regional Development.

In May last year he was elected deputy speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr Kennedy said he has had no job offers since leaving the Assembly.

Employment opportunities had been few and far between, he added.

"At the age of 58, that in itself makes it a challenge to re-enter the workforce," he said.

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