Claire Hackett is the first of many fantastic women in our new 50:50 NI Meets the Candidates series. Claire is a women’s health activist who has worked on many important issues such as supporting people who are breastfeeding, supporting new mothers and generally trying to smash the patriarchy that exists in our health services. As the Alliance rep for Mid Ulster Claire has been selected to run as the Alliance Party candidate for this constituency in the upcoming assembly election.
Have you always been interested in politics?
Hard no. For a long time I actually actively avoided Northern Irish politics.
I couldn’t have been less interested in politics. As far back as school, I remember my school suggesting I do A-Level politics and I just thought absolutely not. I did history and it just seemed to me that Ireland had never changed. It was the same stuff over and over.
I have always voted though. I went to catholic school but I was raised very neutrally even though I had a nationalist background. So voting was about as much as I was involved in politics. This changed when I became a parent.
I had heard about childcare and how expensive it was but then living it is very different. I had heard about feminism too but I had trained as a solicitor and I thought, you know, why do we need feminism? I can do any job I want. But then I learned the patriarchy exists through being a mum. The health system, especially its impact on the maternity service, really impacted me. Then Stormont collapsed and, as a parent, I just thought; no, my children are not growing up in this. All of this got me interested in politics.
Alliance, I never thought that they were an option for up my neck of the woods, in Dungannon but I met the Alliance representative for up here and I realised that they ARE active and they ARE an option here and I got more involved in the party then.
That’s my journey but it is very recent.
That’s great! So what inspired you to take that step into elected politics?
My job at the moment is in community development and so I had thought that I would like to run for council as that is a natural first step and is similar to my day job.
Again it has all stemmed from motherhood and me really wanting a better Northern Ireland for my children. Over the 10 years that I have been a parent I have been supporting other women through breastfeeding, peer support, becoming a doula and becoming one of the founding trustees of BirthWise. Nothing has changed for mothers in those ten years that I have been doing this work. It’s now just a case of, if no one else is doing it I just want to do it myself. That’s why I want to step forward and give a voice to women and solve these issues for women.
What did the process of deciding you wanted to run to get your name on the ballot look like for you?
It has been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest because I only became a member of Alliance in 2019. It kind of just felt right. From me throughout the years doing my breastfeeding support and peer support, being involved in different charities and over the years I have tried in different ways to help and I have felt like I have been banging my head against a brick wall for all these years and that no one in a position of power was really interested in listening or doing anything. So I just got to the point where, through seeing what Matt (Beaumont, FST rep) was doing, I thought I want to do what he is doing in mid ulster. I wanted to let people know that Alliance is a real and viable option.
It also felt like this all came along at the right time in my life and I have been able to bring together the legal side of my life with the community and activism side. They really come together in politics and I feel like I have found where I am meant to be. I have also found the party I am meant to be in. It has all just clicked into place.
That’s really amazing, it sounds like you have been doing some really important work. How then did you go about getting your name on the ballot?
The party had got party reps in place in constituencies where there were no Alliance representatives elected. The opportunity came up to apply to be a party rep in mid-Ulster. I applied and was selected. I have been in that role for over a year and it was the same for running for election. Anyone that was interested in running just had to apply and get selected. That’s how I ended up as the candidate.
We have touched on this, you have done so much community work and you mentioned you trained as a solicitor but do you think your previous career or work experience will help you with your work as apolitical, should you be elected?
When I was at school I worked in Boots and then left to do law. Then in 2014 I left law and went back to Boots, where I worked as a Dispenser in the pharmacy. I just found out that I had been accepted to train as a pharmacy technician when I realised I was pregnant again! Now I am in community development. There are definitely things that I can take from all of those jobs.
The big thing, the thread that ties all these jobs together, is helping people. I always loved working with customers. I would pride myself on having really good customer service. Actually, as a solicitor I think that was one of the things I really struggled with, no one is happy in a solicitor’s office. One of the defining moments for me was when an older male client came in and we talked for a while. When he was leaving he said I hope you don’t mind. I just like coming in here and talking to you because I always leave feeling better. That moment made me realise that is what I want to do. I think my community development work is going to be key in politics because you have to sit and listen to people telling you their experiences, where the gaps are and find meaningful ways to deliver for people in a meaningful and sustainable way. That is something I am mindful of; really listening to people. I have really learned to keep my mouth closed and my ears open and I think the day that I lose that is the day I stop politics.
Is there a political issue that you are particularly passionate about? You have mentioned your activism around motherhood and women’s health. Maybe tell us a bit more about why you are passionate about these issues?
Well, I am a feminist. I am involved with Alliance for Choice too. Parenthood, I just feel like women haven’t been valued and that is apparent in the way that we treat mothers. You know, childcare, maternity leave, returning to work as a breastfeeding mother. I don’t think we value family life and I don’t think we value women’s role in that. I always think about a speech that I heard the MP Mhari Black give a while ago about how society is not set up for women or mothers. Women are trying to work outside the home and raise children but our society was not created for that and we don’t value the work that women do. COVID has shown us how much responsibility is on women. It has also shown that we can have a flexible approach to work, we don’t have to be stuck with 9-5. There is a lot of societal change that needs to happen.
It’s all about valuing women and valuing their experiences.
What has your experience been like since announcing your candidacy?
So far it has been positive. The response has been good. I think the women I have worked with over the years are glad to see someone they identify with and someone who cares about the things they care about. People also have responded positively to the fact that I have been open about my experience as a single parent in receipt of Universal Credit. Often, people feel like our politicians are almost a different species, and certainly don’t understand what it is to live month to month, whereas I am bringing that real, lived experience to the table.
I also think people in my constituency are glad to see an Alliance candidate. It’s been lovely to hear people say that they are happy about that.
Do you think being a woman will be a good thing for your work as a politician, should you be elected?
I do. I think women take a different approach. My womanhood is so intrinsically connected with who I am, my experiences and my motivations for doing this. That’s why I think it will be a benefit to me. It will also make it challenging, commuting to Belfast as a single mother every day will be hard if I am elected. So being a woman will bring challenges but it will also make me a realistic, motivated and empathetic MLA. An MLA that wants to deliver what people tell them they need.
Finally, if a woman came to you and wanted to get into politics, what advice would you give her?
I would absolutely welcome any woman into Alliance especially here in mid-Ulster as I am the only woman at the moment. I would I guess just say, get stuck in! Get a feel for it. We have an Alliance women’s network so you can get involved in that. The only way to know if it is for you is to try it so try it out, get involved as a rep or in another way.
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 email@example.com