19 May 2022

INTERVIEW: Petrol bomb attack was a 'frightening time'

Cllr Christine McFlynn is our latest political interviewee.

INTERVIEW: Petrol bomb attack was a 'frightening time'

Liam Tunney talks to Mid Ulster SDLP councillor Christine McFlynn about cross-party relationships, solving everyday problems and how it felt to be attacked while canvassing ten years ago.

Full version of the interview with Cllr McFlynn is available in podcast form here.

Liam Tunney: Tell me why you got involved in politics to begin with?

Christine McFlynn: I initially got involved with a lot of women's issues like isolation, poverty and other difficulties that they had.

I got very involved in community activities and different groups, and then I was asked by the SDLP if I'd like to be co-opted to take Patsy McGlone's council seat in Cookstown.

I didn't know if I knew a lot about politics, but they reassured me that yes, I did. They said I was the kind of person they were looking for.

LT: What has been your biggest achievement?

CMF: You achieve stuff every single day. Constituents have issues, you try and resolve them, so those are the things that are key to me.

They might seem minor, but it's important I involve constituents in the work that I do and I help them out every single day.

There have also been public realm schemes in Cookstown, Magherafelt and now in Coalisland. Those are terrific schemes that will reinvigorate our town centres and keep residents in our local areas.

LT: What has been the biggest challenge you've faced?

CMF: You face challenges every single day. We sit on various committees and as the agenda comes through, there will be something that challenges your thinking.

Council get public money through the rates, so there's a challenge for us to scrutinise our budgets and that we deliver on everything within that.

LT: The SDLP abstained from the rates vote last week and a zero percent rate was approved. Do you feel you were right to abstain?

CMF: We abstained because although we didn't wholly agree with zero percent, we felt it was the right decision.

Leading up to it, we had months of going over the budgets and had met with senior financial people in council and had grilled through the figures.

We just felt, in the year that's in it, a lot of people are feeling the pinch and might be going out of work. A lot of businesses won't be able to open again; some of our small cafés and pubs.

You have to support those people in their hour of need. zero percent maybe was the right decision for this particular year.

Speeding outside schools is one of the local issues Cllr McFlynn has focused on.

LT: You have a reputation for focusing on everyday issues. You've increased your vote in every election, do you think that focus was a factor in that?

CMF: I'm very proud my vote has gone up every single time. It's a fretful time when you're going forward for election.

Our local people are tremendous and I do push hard on local issues. If an area needs a footpath, or street lighting, or a 30mph zone, then that's important.

I work hard on the daily issues and speed is one of the ones I'm focused on. Environmental issues too, we have an epidemic of litter. It comes up in nearly every Environmental Committee meeting.

LT: Ten years ago, in your first election campaign, there was an attack in Coagh on a car you'd been travelling in. It's a nervy time anyway, but how did that affect you?

CMF: It scared the life out of me. We were out canvassing and when you start, you have to go to every nook and cranny, knock every door, because you can't avoid people.

I was out with a co-worker and we heard a bang. When I looked back, there were two petrol bombs. One was thrown back up the road towards where we were, and the other one was placed under the car.

As we were coming back towards it, it had gone off. It was very frightening, because we had to look round to see if anybody else was around or if anyone was watching us.

We rang through to SDLP headquarters and informed them. They phoned the police and they came straight away, within five or six minutes.

It was a scary time, but you take the good with the bad. You just get on with it. Thank God we haven't encountered that again.

Cllr McFlynn with party colleagues; fellow Mid Ulster councillor Martin Kearney and Patsy McGlone MLA.

LT: The issue of harrassment and attacks on women is in the news following the murder of Sarah Everand. What can be done to educate men on the dangers that women face?

CMF: We had Raise Your Voice in Council when they were discussing sexual harassment and isolating people when they come to work.

We've seen it in the papers now recently that our journalists have been harassed, particularly female journalists who have been very vocal.

It's a difficult area and it's another piece of work that needs to be done. We need to be honing in on it when it does occur and everyone should be coming out in support of those who get harassed.

LT: How important are cross-party relationships at a local level?

CMF: It's important that we're seen to be able to work together across a variety of issues. We've had to make new working groups several times to grill down into issues.

Debate is healthy, but it's important the public sees we are able to co-operate. We have a good group in Mid-Ulster and we all work well together.

We have our individual voices that we use to raise issues and we all treat each other with respect. Our opinions might be different, but we have to take them on board.

LT: Is there anything in particular you'd like to focus on over the remainder of the council term?

CMF: Infrastructure is a big problem in Mid Ulster. We are lucky now the dual carriageway is almost finished between Randalstown and Castledawson, but the infrastructure from there on in is not good.

We need to put big efforts into getting out bypasses through. There is one almost ready to go in Cookstown, but it would be brilliant if we could see it delivered for Cookstown and Dungannon.

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