We are back with another ’50:50 NI Meets…’ interview. This week we met Liz Kimmins. Liz is the Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh.
Have you always been interested in politics?
Yes, I supposed from a young age I always had a keen interest. I didn’t really get active until I was in my early twenties but I was always fairly clued in and interested when it came to politics. My background is in social work so that also meant I had an interest in politics.
What inspired you to get into politics?
Well, I was in England for university and then I came back and went to do my social work degree at Queens. I had done my undergraduate degree in Liverpool and I was really interested in social justice. I always would have been a republican from a young age and I was very aware of what my family and other families went through where I was from.
When I finished university I began working in the community and became more heavily involved in the community. I also worked in the voluntary sector for a long time and then eventually got involved as an activist with Sinn Fein. When I was involved with Sinn Fein the party approached me and asked if I would be interested in running for the council elections during the time that the new super councils were being formed. I was honoured to even be considered because I was just happy to be an activist so to be asked was really an honour, you know to get the opportunity to represent my community.
Then in 2020 when the MLA for my area stepped down I was co-opted into that seat.
Great! So you mentioned that you had been a social worker and worked in the voluntary sector for a while. Do you think that this experience prepared you for life as an elected politician?
Yes, absolutely. I love dealing with people and out of everything we do as MLAs my heart is in the constituency and dealing with people. You know, dealing with issues and trying to help people and also trying to improve the area. So that is something that in social working and in other areas, I was always very committed to and very keen to do. So yes, it is very similar. In fact, you actually get a much broader range of people to deal with. When I was a social worker I was in older people services so you are more limited in terms of the people that you are dealing with. As an MLA you meet with all ages.
Are there any political issues that you are particularly passionate about? If so, what are they and why?
In the last year, there have actually been quite a few issues. I have been working on student issues and how students were very much left behind in terms of the pandemic. That’s obviously something that we need to address going forward because we really want young people to feel valued here. So that is a big one.
Naturally, with my own background, I would have a particular interest in health and social care. For example, supporting carers and other big issues that I would deal with in this area as well.
In your experience in politics, having been a councillor and now an MLA, what is the toughest part about being a woman in politics?
Within my own part, I feel supported but in the broader arena that’s not the same. I have a young son and it’s hard to balance all of that. I think for men it’s very different.
I also think women are not as confident. I have really noticed how the public, especially on social media, respond to women in politics. You know, they comment on their appearance and the language they use can be very derogatory. There is a stark contrast in the way that the public reacts to men in politics and that is very challenging because as women you sometimes feel like you have to deliver to a higher standard. That is something that really struck me, particularly over the last year when we were seeing some of the commentaries around Michelle and Arlene. Some of it was very derogatory and it can be hard not to take these things personally.
On a more positive note, what do you think is the best part about being a woman in politics?
Well, I really think we cannot truly represent all actions of society if we are not in there and obviously that doesn’t just apply to women it applies across the board. We need people from different backgrounds, different cultures, ages and sexualities.
I met with the deputy high commissioner from Canada this year in Stormont and it was my first time attending a meeting like that and I was the only female there. I was still very new to the assembly and I felt a bit out of my depth but at the end of the meeting the deputy high commissioner stayed back and we had a conversation about how important it is to have women around the table especially in terms of the effects of covid.
So it’s great to be able to represent women.
If you could make it easier for women to get into politics what would you do?
I think if there were more women in politics it would make it easier because women would feel comfortable. It’s like anything, if you feel that there are others like you there then you will feel more comfortable. In my own party women are at the core of the party and have been important to the party historically as well. I think that means you feel very welcome whereas if you were joining a party that was all men you wouldn’t feel comfortable voicing your opinion.
And finally, if a woman really wants to get into politics. What advice would you give her?
Go for it! Everybody has something to offer. We all bring something unique to the table and if you feel like you want to get into politics then go for it. Don’t let anything hold you back. Particularly, the fact that you’re a woman shouldn’t hold you back. In fact, it should make you more determined.
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