Belfast Telegraph

Home News Politics

MLA Keith Buchanan: I am who I am and I have my own identity; I don't smear that on other people's faces ... about 25% of people who come into my office are Roman Catholics

The most probing interviews: Keith Buchanan, Mid-Ulster DUP MLA, on the Beeb, his Christian faith, nicknames, losing his father, same-sex marriage and meeting Chris Tarrant

By Claire McNeilly

Q. You're 44, married to home-maker Sandra, who's also 44, and you have a daughter Loren (14). How did you and Sandra meet?

A. It was a blind date. She was the friend of a work colleague's girlfriend. It was a Christmas work do in Ballykelly and Sandra and I were invited. It was love at first sight for me. It was a working man's club - not a very romantic place for a first date.

We got married on September 11, 1998, and went to the south of France on honeymoon. We stayed in Biot and travelled around for two weeks.

I read two books on my honeymoon - one was on the Special Boat Service. I didn't buy them; they were in the caravan.

Q. Tell us about your parents and siblings.

A. My father William was 85 when he passed away on my 33rd birthday, May 11, 2006.

He had chest issues for several years, then took pneumonia. He wasn't well for two weeks before he died. We were prepared for his death.

I remember the day before it happened, driving around on the lawnmower crying my eyes out because I knew he was going to pass away. I was in a trance.

The whole family - the seven of us and my mother - were at his bedside when he died, and that was good.

My mum Florence (84) is still fit and well, living at home alone on the farm in Rock.

I have three brothers - Wilbert (57) is a DUP councillor in Cookstown and an IT lab technician; the twins Kenneth and David are both 54 and farmers -and three sisters - Rae (51), a district nurse, June (49), a classroom assistant, and Fiona (48), who manages cancer care for patients in a hospital.

Q. You took a pay cut to go into politics. Is that fast becoming one of your biggest regrets?

A. I first stood, unsuccessfully, for council in 2014. I had a passion for the community.

We started a community group - MOREE (of which I'm secretary) - in 1997, based in an Orange Hall. It holds Burns Nights, social events, photographic exhibitions, etc. That pushed me into politics.

I wasn't getting a buzz from my job any longer and wanted a new challenge. Money only puts food on the table, it doesn't create a buzz. The time was right to move.

Growing up, I was always interested in politics and the DUP was my party; it suited me. It's not a regret but it's frustrating at the minute.

Q. You took to Twitter on October 4 to write: "The BBC don't get the cold, they don't cough, grow up and report real news". What did you mean by that? Your DUP colleague Gregory Campbell has had a go at the Beeb in the past about biased reporting. Is that your position too?

A. From memory, Teresa May had a cold and it was headline news. I don't like the way they're heading, locally or nationally.

They get their teeth into someone or something and they just never stop. For example, Donald Trump.

They are biased. The BBC needs to be more on the fence in its reporting.

Q. Prior to that, on September 2, you referred to a cross-party photo (SDLP, Greens, People Before Profit, Alliance, Sinn Fein) supporting the Irish Language Act, tweeting: "Standing like ducks in a row, no grey area now, if you quack, you're definitely a duck!" I take it you're no fan of an Irish Language Act.

A. No fan, but it's interesting that since that photo was taken some parties have drawn back and conceded that it isn't the most important thing.

I was saying that we all now know where these parties stand on the Irish Language Act - they all thought it was very important.

Q. On your DUP profile page it says you believe "strongly the moral issues that the party has taken a strong stance on." Explain that.

A. Same-sex marriage, for example. I don't agree with it.

I have no issue with people being gay but I don't believe in the redefinition of marriage. It's as simple as that.

I don't agree with changing marriage to suit today's society.

Q. Would you get an Irish passport?

A. No - irrespective of cost.

Q. You attend your local Church of Ireland, so you obviously believe in God. Do you have a strong faith, and does death frighten you?

A. I have a strong faith. Death doesn't frighten me because I know it's going to come. It's just about being ready when it does come. You may or may not drop a cup at the sink tonight but death will come.

Q. If there was one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be?

A. People are always telling me to smile when I'm getting my photograph taken, but I don't do smiles.

Q. How do you relax outside politics?

A. My hobby is community work and I'm superintendent of the Junior Orange Lodge in Pomeroy. I'm not a golfer or anything like that.

Q. Which politician from another party do you most admire?

A. No one as yet.

Q. If you were in trouble, who is the one person you would you turn to?

A. Probably my wife, depending on what the trouble is.

Q. Who was your biggest inspiration growing up?

A. Duncan Bannatyne from the Dragons Den TV show, because he made a decision and he stuck with it. And he generally wasn't rude to the people, but he was very direct and straight.

Q. Elected in 2016, you're a political infant in terms of Stormont, but do you see a solution to the current stalemate?

A. Yes. I think Sinn Fein has realised that an Irish Language Act is not acceptable to the unionist community. Their own community is probably also saying now that it's not the most important thing. People care about bread and butter issues. I see Christmas being the big watershed. If Sinn Fein don't come back into the Executive the Secretary of State is going to have to move on with direct rule ministers.

Q. Are you ready to take a pay cut because of the mounting criticism over MLAs' wages?

A. You can't get ready until it comes. Stormont is not operating but I've never been busier. I've taken this time to get stuck into more and more constituency work.

Q. What's the most important piece of advice someone has ever given you?

A. Don't be scared to make a decision and run with it. Too many people always know after the event. The world is full of 'I told you so' people.

Q. Who is your best Catholic friend?

A. It's not a thing at the forefront of my mind.

A lot of people in Northern Ireland use religion as an identity bracelet but I'm not hung up about it.

I have many friends and acquaintances and I don't know what some of them are.

I am who I am and I have my own identity; I don't smear that on people's faces. About 25% of people who come into my office are Roman Catholics.

Q. What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

A. I ordered 600 gallons of heating oil and didn't price it.

Q. Tell us something that readers might be surprised to learn about you.

A. I sat on the Who Wants to be a Millionaire chair.

My brother Wilbert was part of the eight but didn't get through. I was there to focus him. The question was about James Bond actors in order of who played the role, but he didn't get there.

But after that I asked the host Chris Tarrant to phone my mother-in-law and pretend Wilbert was in the chair. So he did - he said "It's Chris Tarrant here and we've got Wilbert stuck on a question". But she just replied: "Keith, quit messing about."

Q. What's Tarrant like?

A. He told me a story about how he'd been fishing outside Magherafelt and lost his wallet. Three weeks later he got a phone call from a man who'd found it.

Chris said he was surprised when the man offered to send it to him but the guy told him: "We might shoot you over here, but we'll not steal your money."

Q. Tell us about the best day of your life so far.

A. The day I walked up or down the aisle, it depends on where you were sitting watching me from.

Q. And what about the worst day? What is the most traumatic thing you've been through?

A. The day I stood at my father's bedside as he passed away.

Q. What's your favourite place in the whole world, and why?

A. Lake Garda in Italy. We went there for a week for my sister-in-law's wedding. It wasn't really a relaxing time, but it was a very nice place.

Q. And what's your favourite place in Northern Ireland?

A. I like the Fermanagh lakes. I'm not anti-north coast, because I go there too, but the lakes are more relaxing. The north coast on a good day can be very hectic.

Q. Have you ever had a nickname?

A. At school I was Q Buck, don't ask me why. The Buck is for Buchanan but to this day I still don't know what the Q means.

Q. You still live in Rock, where you grew up. Did you have a happy childhood?

A. Very happy. I remember playing in the snow as a young family or bringing in hay. There was a little army of us so there was great help on the farm.

I had no interest in farming in later life but then you helped out, you earned your crust. It was an animal farm - milk cows, beef cattle, sheep and pigs.

Q. You went to Lisnagleer Primary and Dungannon Secondary School before leaving in 1989, aged 16, to attend Craigavon Training Centre and serve your time as an electrician. Briefly tell us about your career to date.

A. I worked for Drum Electrical until 1992. Then I went to work for McGerr Electrical from 1992 until 1993. They looked after the maintenance within Dunbia - a major food processing company - and I subsequently went in there as an electrician in 1993 and finished, 22 years later, as Northern Ireland manager. The job involved a lot of travelling in the UK, Europe and the USA.

Q. What is your greatest achievement to date?

A. Doing this job and being an MLA. Some people categorise MLAs as the new estate agent - the MLAs are this and they don't do this but I often tell people to spend a day - or a week - with me. Not every day is hectic but it's full-on all the time.

Q. If the Assembly collapses, what's next for you?

A. I'm a tradesman. I've a lot of contacts and I'm not afraid to work. Standing on the back of a bin lorry wouldn't annoy me; I'm not proud.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph