This week 50:50 NI meets Kathryn McNickle. Kathryn is a Green Party Councillor for Holywood and Clandeboye. She has an BA in Politics and Modern History from the University of Manchester and an LLM in Human Rights Law from QUB.
Have you always been interested in politics?
I was used to political conversations at home, talking about different issues. I definitely wasn’t raised to be a green voter but was not taught to be either green or orange. I suppose the first big political event that I felt particularly attached to or interested in was the 2010 election when I was absolutely sure Nick Clegg was going to be the next Prime Minister and I was quickly let down by all that followed.
Yeh, I definitely wasn’t raised in a particularly active political family.
What initially inspired you to become a politician?
At first, there was no desire to be a politician. I joined the green party really out of guilt. They were the party that appealed to me because I believe change really can come through politics and in terms of climate and social justice they were the party that appealed to me. I had spare time and I felt that you can’t complain about things and not try to make a change. So I got involved and started canvassing and stuff, which was a bit out of my comfort zone but you have to push yourself sometimes.
Then when Rachel Woods became an MLA and I was approached and asked if I would be interested in replacing her. My first instinct was no, I’m much too young and I don’t have the experience but then I thought, as I’ve said if you really want to make a change and you are given the chance to, you should take it.
What did you do professionally before becoming a councillor and do you think this prepared you for life as a politician?
I had worked in hospitality for a few years and in fundraising for international development. I then started volunteering and then working for what was citizens’ advice. Providing advice on benefits, employment and housing. This gave me a really great understanding of the local community and what huge impact small changes in policy can have on some people’s lives. I quite enjoyed that.
I think it prepared me. I was working mostly on welfare and benefits and housing and these are issues that come up on council. It’s also about people skills, you are talking to people when they are struggling and need guidance. You have to help people and empower them so that has been helpful.
Well, a member of the Green Party I imagine the climate crisis is something that you really care about. What are the issues that you are particularly passionate about?
Well as you said, it is quite hard to get past the climate crisis.
I am also very interested in the social security system and the changes that have been made to welfare in the last few years. Thankfully Northern Ireland is mitigated against some of the effects of welfare reform that has come in in England. The effects of welfare reform are felt by the most vulnerable in society.
What, in your experience, has been the toughest part about being a woman in politics?
I would say, most of my experience as a councillor has been over zoom which has probably made a difference.
For me, the biggest thing is imposter syndrome and feeling like you don’t belong. I can feel myself apologising for asking a question even though that’s my job! I think it is something you have to push through and tell yourself that you do belong.
I am a cis, white straight woman, with no dependents, so it is definitely much harder for other women.
I am not very active on social media and seeing the abuse that other women get on social media doesn’t encourage me to use it more.
What do you think then in your experience has been the best thing about being a woman in politics?
The personal feeling of being able to make a difference is very rewarding. In terms of being a woman, a young woman is the ability to bring a different perspective.
I have been to meetings about equality and inclusion and I’ve noticed people often talk about how to include elderly people, which is important but young people are very disengaged in politics and more needs to be done to include young voices which sometimes wouldn’t be represented at all if I wasn’t in the room.
If you could make it easier for other women to get into politics what would you do?
The social media and more general media attitudes to any woman in the public sphere. There is such a focus on what they are wearing etc and the abuse tweets definitely put women off.
Other women in the party have reassured me that I don’t need to be on social media, or put myself out there if I don’t feel comfortable. Once more women enter politics hopefully the attitude of the media, and on social media will change.
And finally, If a woman wants to get into politics what advice would you give her?
Give it a go! Some studies show women often think they need more qualifications to do a job than they actually do. It’s not true, you just need a passion for helping people and helping in your local area.
Women from other parties have all been on a personal level supportive and you just need that support and encouragement to give it a go.
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