SDLP East Antrim candidate Siobhan McAlister says ‘there’s a desire for change’ in constituency

This time around, East Antrim is the only constituency where only one woman is standing in this week’s poll. That woman is the SDLP’s Siobhan McAlister.

We joined her on the campaign trail in Larne to find out what she and the voters thought about the situation.

“It would be a huge privilege to be the first woman to serve here since then,” Siobhan said as she went from house to house, aiming to convince people to lend her their vote.

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“It’s a shame that this constituency has never seen a woman elected to the Assembly, but I think there is definitely an appetite for that change, for a new generation.

“When I speak to people on the doors here, there is a lot of surprise that there has never been a woman elected to the Assembly here, and surprise that there is only one woman running this year.

“It’s a unique selling factor for me and I think it’s of particular interest to young voters.

“Since the establishment of the Assembly, it has been dominated by male voices.

“There is a lack of diversity across the board, not just in terms of female voices, but voices from ethnic minority backgrounds and disabled elected representatives.

“It is important to have a diversity of voices, and I think people want to see a female elected in this constituency and more women at Stormont.

“Childcare… is something that is raised with me on the doors quite often.

“It’s a huge expense for many families, and it means for many, in particular women, they have to take reduced hours at work or have to quit their jobs entirely because it is unaffordable.”

A largely unionist seat, the SDLP has not returned an MLA here since 1998.

The last party representative to serve East Antrim was Danny O’Connor, who lost his seat in the 2003 election.

In 2017, Margaret-Anne McKillop stood but was eliminated on the third count.

The five outgoing MLAs — David Hilditch and Gordon Lyons (both DUP), John Stewart and Roy Beggs (both UUP) and Alliance’s Stewart Dickson — are all standing again.

However, some people feel one of the unionist seats may be vulnerable this time around.

On the doors, voter Edwin Regan thought there should be female representation for East Antrim.

“What we have here is the same old thing. Same faces, same rhetoric, same issues. Nothing changes, so I think it is time for change,” he said.

“You like to be able to approach [your MLAs] and talk to them. You need to give the younger generation a go. It’s time to move on.”

A few doors down, we caught up with another voter who did not wish to give her name.

“It seems to be all the male generation we see, so it would be nice to have a female there to support us,” she said.

“There are women elected to Stormont, but we’ve never had a female [elected] here. Everyone needs a change.”

Asked if she felt it was important to have female representation at Stormont, another voter, Michelle, replied: “I don’t think it matters if it is a man or a woman, but given that Stormont is male-dominated, I would like to see more females get in so that there is a broader range of experiences and understanding of the issues that affect people.”

She added she wanted to see less of a focus on “orange and green” issues, and more “proper politics”.

“The issues that are important to me are fairness in society and respecting who people are,” Michelle explained.

“It’s important people have their religious beliefs, and that’s great for them, but that should not dictate policy.”

Down the street we met June McClintock, a pensioner, who wanted to see more women in politics because they were “more dependable”.

“We need some more ladies who can speak up for us. As long as the right people fight for us. Some [MLAs] have been very disappointing,” she said.

Another constituent, Donna, said she did not mind what gender her MLAs were.

“If I think someone is going to do a good job, I will vote for them,” she added.

Finally, we spoke to student Tanisha Bartley (21), who has never voted before. She said she wanted to see more female representation across the board, not just in politics.

“I’ve never voted before, but I would consider it. Education is important to me because I am just finishing university and haven’t really enjoyed the experience, with Covid and everything,” she added.

“Women’s rights [and] the abortion laws would also be important to me [and] equality. Really everything, that, as a young person, we are moving towards.

“I would like to think that a female representative would represent my views more than maybe a male would. That isn’t me hating on any male politician, but that would be important to me and I think for younger girls looking to the future also.”

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