Belfast Telegraph

Local Election 2019

SDLP selects candidate from unionist background - she says she's not the only one

Heather Wilson is standing for election in the Castle ward
Heather Wilson is standing for election in the Castle ward
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The SDLP's first female candidate from a unionist background has said she is not quite as "atypical" as some believe.

Heather Wilson (27) grew up in the Ballysillan area of north Belfast and got her first job in 2016 with SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon.

She works in the party's Press office and is standing as a candidate for the Castle ward.

"Someone once described me as atypical, I don't think I'm totally atypical," she said. "I think there is a group of people in the SDLP that are from a Protestant background but maybe aren't as loud about it as I am."

A former pupil of the Girls' Model School, she said an interest in left-wing politics attracted her more to the SDLP than unionist parties or Alliance.

"I've always recognised the SDLP to have the best interests of people at heart," she said.

"Out of all the parties, there's less politicking with the SDLP and I do believe very strongly in reunification.

"That's something I came to at a young age. I felt people would be better off in a new Ireland envisioned by John Hume.

"It wasn't something I spoke about in school, but in university people were much more open to those sort of ideas, that encouraged me as well."

Although the first female candidate from a unionist background, the SDLP has had other Protestant representatives in the past.

They include founder member Ivan Cooper and Dorita Field, a South African who was elected as a councillor for Balmoral in 1989.

Ms Wilson said her family has always supported her decision to join the nationalist party.

She added: "My family are very good, they did worry about me. Our area is much more mixed now and people are generally more accommodating and tolerant than we give them credit for.

"There was just one incident in a fast food shop where someone said something stupid, trying to act the big lad, but I've been very fortunate so far."

She said that her main focus for the council elections coming up in May is to help the elderly and first-time home buyers. "My daddy has dementia and lives in a care home, so I'd love to see a dementia-friendly north Belfast," she said.

"Help for first-time buyers and rates reduction is also something you'll be met with on the doors a lot."

The SDLP's recent decision to partner with Fianna Fail was rejected by two of the party's high-profile members, the MLA Claire Hanna and councillor Tim Attwood.

"I've always been for it," Ms Wilson added.

She said a blurring of traditional green and orange lines was becoming more common.

"In our party, there are a number of people my age that maybe wouldn't identify as coming from a unionist background but are definitely Protestant, but it's not an issue," she said.

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