This week 50:50 NI meets Paula Bradley. Paula is a Democratic Unionist Party politician in the Northern Ireland Assembly. She has been a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Belfast North since 2011.
So, my first question is, have you always been political?
I grew up in a household that was not political in any way, shape or form. I started to get interested in politics around the time of the Belfast Agreement and this was because I was an RUC officer at the time; up until then, absolutely not!
So, what inspired you to become a politician?
I don’t think I was really inspired to become a politician. I worked for the party for a while, doing communications and it was then that I was first asked to stand for election. I was asked if I would run as a councillor in Newtownabbey councillor and I said no! Absolutely not!
I then got a few more phone calls and agreed to run as the third candidate. Despite requesting to be the third candidate I was first on the ballot paper because my name is Bradley, so I was elected!
So you mentioned that you were previously an RUC officer and that you worked for the party. Do you think your career before becoming a politician prepared you for political life?
I also worked in social services, I worked on the hospital social service team. That was the longest job that I had. I did it right up until I was an MLA, for about 10 years. That gave me an insight into the real lives of people. I also volunteered at the Citizens Advice Bureau for 4 years and again that really showed me how people are struggling and the real lives people were living.
Is there an issue that you feel particularly passionate about, and what is it, and why?
I was the health spokesperson for the party for many years and I sat on the Department for Social Development committee. Health has always been the issue that is closest to my heart but I’ve also always had strong feelings about housing because of the lack of social housing we have, particularly in North Belfast. Housing is something I worked very closely with at Citizens Advice Bureau and Social Services. So I suppose housing is a priority for me. Our policy within the DUP is that we want to see more social and affordable housing. That is really one of the many causes I’d be a champion for.
So, it’s no secret that it can be hard to be a woman in politics. What do you think is the most challenging part?
Being in politics is challenging in general.
I have great difficulty with social media and the abuse we get on social media. I find it hard, it’s really offensive and hurtful. People often don’t dig any deeper than just headlines, they don’t think about the person behind the headline, about our lives or experiences. Some of the stuff I get upsets me greatly. It makes me insular and I just want to hide. I have to give myself a kick up the bum something and remind myself it’s not personal. I’m not sure if that is just me as a person or if it’s a female thing.
I have to say I have had every opportunity in my time as a politician. I haven’t been held back in any way. I was made a spokesperson on health very early on. I’ve been on various committees since I first became an MLA and the party has pushed me to do these things.
I have found most women that I speak to talk about how difficult social media issues can be. It’s particularly tough for women.
Yes, I rarely use social media, I retweet stuff on Twitter but I’ve only recently started an MLA Facebook page. This actually has been liberating because someone else managed it for me. In terms of Twitter, I tend to get included in tweets which I don’t like. Often the contents of the tweet aren’t actually aligned to my own opinion.
And what do you think is the best part of being a woman in politics?
I think for me it’s the opportunities I’ve had: The party putting me forward for various positions. That’s been a bit of a bonus because the party really wants to give opportunities to the women they have.
There are a lot of barriers to getting into politics, especially if you are women, be it childcare or as we have discussed, abuse online. If you could change one thing that would make it easier for women to get into politics what would it be?
In terms of child care, there is money available at the local level but we don’t get it at the MLA level.
Saying to women that they can do this, and being told you can do it is really important. For me, it was a complete lack of confidence I had and I don’t think that is just me.
Equality of opportunity is important as well, I’ve spoken to many women throughout the years who would never put themselves forward for a seat if there is already a man in it, who has held a seat for a long time.
Finally, If a woman is inspired to get into politics what advice would you give her?
Just that it’s doable! If someone like me who didn’t have a political background can do it anyone can. I also wish I had gotten involved sooner.
I think it’s good to have a career behind you because this job is very precarious. I also don’t think you’ll find a political party that 100% fits your views so look at which party fits the best, as it’s hard to get elected in NI without a party.
It’s perfectly doable and we need more women to have balanced policies. There’s definitely a sisterhood in the assembly which is great.
If you are interested in getting into politics or are even just curious about how it all work get in touch with 50:50 NI at firstname.lastname@example.org