Belfast Telegraph

Kellie Armstrong: It can be quite stressful, but I am in this for the long haul

 

Kellie Armstrong
Kellie Armstrong
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Kellie Armstrong, Alliance MLA for Strangford:

I’m up reading my emails from about 7.30am. After I get my daughter Sophia to school, I drive to my constituency office.

I miss the structure of the day when the Assembly was sitting. Then, you knew you’d be in Stormont on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and in your constituency office Thursdays and Fridays.

With devolution suspended, you have to be very disciplined. I still go to Parliament Buildings at least twice a week for Alliance team meetings and to meet people in connection with my party portfolio as infrastructure spokesperson.

I have to keep abreast of developments regarding roads, water, and public transport. I’ll be talking to quarry people and those in the construction industry.

Without a committee to go to where you get the information automatically, you can easily end up out of the loop so it’s important to be pro-active.

I’ve never been busier with casework. There is such an extraordinary volume of work that I joke with my office staff that I don’t know if we’d even have time for the Assembly.

Before it was a five-day week, now it’s evenings and weekends too. I’ve even been contacted by constituents on Christmas Day. Social media makes politicians more easily accessible.

I would have 45 to 50 totally new cases a month. It may be about getting a high hedge cut or a benefits appeal.

One very lengthy case involved residents of a Ballygowan estate. The heating system installed was meant to be environmentally friendly and efficient but it ended up costing homeowners a clean fortune.

We worked to get a new heating system in and compensation for residents.

There are a lot of comments from people about Stormont not functioning. To stop them having a go, I’ll get in first and say ‘I’m a part-time worker, also known as an MLA’.

I feel I have to justify my existence. I do find it stressful and I have had wobbles and wondered if I want to remain in politics. I gave up a good job to become an MLA. I was Northern Ireland director of the Community Transport Association working with 3,500 volunteers organising transport for older people and those with disabilities.

Coming from the real world of work, I find it very frustrating that I’m now not able to do the job I was elected to do.

I am in politics for the long haul. But if the Assembly doesn’t come back, I wonder who would employ us MLAs? I know that I’d have to retrain. The stalemate is not my fault. I hold the leadership of the DUP and Sinn Fein responsible, not their MLAs.

But I do think the MLAs must make their voices heard more and tell their leaders that they have to get back to work.

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