This week 50:50 NI meets Naomi McBurney who is a UUP candidate for North Down. Naomi has been an activist in her community for many years running campaigns such as “Bring it back to Primary” and campaigning on the issues associated with school uniforms. Her experience in politics goes well beyond this as she has previously worked on issues such as fuel poverty, and is currently studying for her degree in social policy.
Have you always been interested in politics?
No, not at all. I didn’t have an interest in politics until, probably, 2019. I was seeing a lot in the media and in social media about the fact that Stormont had been collapsed for so long and the real devastating impact that was having on health, education, poverty and all the areas I am very passionate about. That is what really sparked my interest.
Before that, I think I felt that I didn’t have an understanding of politics
Great! So what inspired you to take that step into elected politics?
I have a real heart for the people of Northern Ireland and in particular the people of North Down. I’m from Bangor and the Bangor that I grew up in and the Bangor that exists now are not the same and that is sad to me. I ran the campaign ‘Bring it Back to Primary’ and a school uniform campaign which gave me an awareness of the need for people like myself to be in politics; people that care and have a heart for the everyday issues that people have. For me, politics is about helping people and making their life better.
So what did the process of getting selected as a candidate look like for you?
I had through my ‘Bring it back to Primary’ campaign, come to the attention of Robbie Butler, the Deputy Leader of the UUP, and Phillip Smith. Through these connections, I developed a relationship with them and the party. I suppose, they saw something in me that they wanted in the party. They asked me if I would consider running, and I said no! I thought, this is definitely not for me. It is not something I would have the confidence or the skills to do. As my school uniform campaign went on, I realised the need for change in Stormont and the need for candidates that are not just concerned with ‘green’ and ‘orange’ issues. That’s my vision and I did eventually say yes, that I would do it.
What do you do professionally now and do you think your experience will help you in your role as a politician should you be elected?
I think one of the reasons I was reluctant to say yes to running is because I don’t consider myself a professional. I don’t have a degree. I have a background in communications and marketing and I have worked on issues such as fuel poverty and home safety.
All of these roles that I have had have given me transferable skills, and helped me understand the wider needs that exist in Northern Ireland, and how to influence them at a policy level.
This has led me to where I am now, I am a full-time social policy student. The passions that I have for things like fuel poverty or education are all being placed on a solid foundation now because I am learning the theory and the concepts behind all of this. So I have gained work experience and now I am trying to back that up with a qualification.
That is really great and it’s amazing that you have gone back to study! So you have touched on this but if you want to just tell me a bit more about what political issues you are really passionate about and why?
A lot of people who have gotten to know me in the last few years would probably say education because of my ‘Bring it Back to Primary’ and school uniforms campaigns. I am incredibly passionate about education and educational underachievement.
Having worked in fuel poverty I am passionate about that and the wider issues of poverty and these are tied in to all the other issues I care about like school uniforms, and underachievement, and the stigma that exists around poverty. I am also passionate about the effect that poverty can have on mental health and bringing young voices into these issues. This is what we have been champions of in my campaigns. I wanted to give Primary 7s a voice on the issues that are effecting them because the people that issues actually effect are often the last to be asked about it.
How has your experience been since you announced your candidacy?
It has been positive however my focus and attention have still really been on my degree and the school uniform campaign at the moment, to be honest. I guess not being in politics before and being thrown into a party has been strange. A lot of other candidates have already been councillors so they have a bit of experience that I don’t have.
Do you think being a woman will help you in your role as an MLA should you be elected?
I don’t know the honest answer. I think if I was successful I would bring a lot to the table, and to the role, and I do think a large part of that is because I am a woman.I’m also a mum. I do think yes, women have a strong contribution to make and that is not recognised.
I think being a woman in politics comes with additional stresses and pressure that men don’t really have.
Finally, my last question is what advice would you give to another woman who wants to get into politics?
The first thing I would say is to make sure you have your tribe. Having connections with women who are in politics already is probably really key. Jill MacAuly has been a big help to me and having her here is really helpful. Having a strong election agent who knows what they are doing is also really helpful.
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