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Green Party new Northern Ireland leader Clare Bailey puts local elections at top of her agenda

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Clare Bailey in her office yesterday

Clare Bailey in her office yesterday

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Clare Bailey in her office yesterday

Clare Bailey has been selected as the new leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland.

The South Belfast MLA succeeds Steven Agnew who stepped down after seven years at the helm.

Describing herself as an activist, feminist and environmentalist, she said she has inherited a "buoyant and dynamic membership" ready to tackle everything from Brexit to climate change.

"I'm absolutely thrilled. It's just great to be given the confidence of the party membership," she said, adding that her first focus as leader was to return more councillors at the local elections in May.

"We've seen a huge expansion of our membership in the past few years, so we know a lot of people are starting to look for a new political voice.

"My children have certainly grown up in a very different Northern Ireland than I did. The politics of the past is not something they engage in so there's more people looking to politics to deliver for their futures and I think the Green Party do fit that."

A politics graduate of Queen's University Belfast, Ms Bailey said a lack of women's experience in public policy inspired her to stand for election.

Joining the Green Party in 2010, she previously worked for the Nexus NI charity which offers support to victims of sexual abuse and violence. She has also volunteered as a Marie Stopes clinic escort, and volunteered with Giro's Community Cafe and drop-in centre for 15 years.

Yesterday, she welcomed new proposals from retired judge Sir John Gillen on how trials on rape and other serious sexual offences are conducted in Northern Ireland.

"I did meet with Sir John when he was undertaking his research; I was delighted to see his report come out," she said. "I was also really glad to see him call for cultural as well as judicial changes.

"I believe we need to empower our young people through mandatory relationship and sexuality education programmes in our schools."

Born in Clonard in the lower Falls Road in 1970, Ms Bailey moved to a mixed housing estate in Antrim town before joining Northern Ireland's first integrated school, Lagan College, in 1981.

Integrated education remains a passion for her today along with policy interests including human rights, women's rights, anti-austerity and environmental matters.

Having lived in south Belfast most of her adult life, she has raised a son and daughter in the area and was first elected as an MLA for the constituency in 2016.

Belfast Telegraph