For the first time in a decade three main-stream unionists will contest an Assembly Election in Foyle on May 5.
In advance of Thursday’s poll Independent Unionist candidate, Maurice Devenney, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) candidate, Julia Kee, and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) candidate, Gary Middleton, all gathered in St Columb’s Park House to pitch to the unionist electorate of the Waterside at a hustings event organised by the Londonderry Bands Forum.
During the event, which was broadcast live by @L_Sentinel and can be viewed here https://bambuser.com/v/6232933 the candidates ran the entire gamut of the hot button issues exercising the unionist community in Londonderry, including health, educational attainment, jobs, infrastructure, Brexit, abortion and the perils or otherwise of a split-unionist vote.
Here, the Sentinel reproduces their appeals to the unionist electorate according to the running order in which they were made at the event on Wednesday, April 27.
Julia Kee, Ulster Unionist
“I’m a social policy graduate from Magee and I attended Foyle and Londonderry College in the 1990s and Lisnagelvin Primary School.
“I’m a community worker. I’m currently working in Tullyally but I’ve also worked on a number of unemployment programmes, Step to Work, and New Deal.
“I’ve also worked for Derry City Council as a good relations officer, the Londonderry YMCA, and I was based here at St Columb’s Park House on the Gateway to Protestant Participation (GPP) initiative.
“That was funded by European peace money and kick started the work that Derek [Moore] does now with the Londonderry Bands Forum working in the city.
“I’m probably fed up saying, I work hard, because self-praise, is no praise...but anyone who knows me can testify as to what I have done in the past, in terms of getting things done.
“Many of the people I’ve worked with are here in this room this evening so maybe if you don’t believe me, you can ask them.
“I am by no means a career politician. Politics was a natural progression for me.
“It probably came about more for me after my stint working at Council, where I saw how politics could hold something as important as peace back.
“I missed out on being elected to Derry City Council, my first time running, by 34 votes and it was Tom Elliott who had helped me with a few issues I encountered in Tullyally at the time who talked me into joining the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
“I saw that politics could be made to work to help the people who needed help and I was determined to do what was right for the community that I worked in.
“I decided that rather than wait for someone else to step forward and do the job, I should take up the challenge myself.
“This is what I would do if I was elected to represent you in Foyle.
“I would open a full-time office in the Waterside, accessible to all. I would staff the office with the best support staff I could get my hands on, with the best knowledge and skills to deal with issues such as welfare rights, and issues around social, housing and health issues, not someone employed just because they are my family member.
“We need to give unionists the best possible care and support. I would set up regular meetings with youth, community, cultural, sports and interests groups to listen and hear what their needs are and firmly establish what I can do to help.
“I will meet with Councillors in the area, not just from my own party, to deal with issues and see how I can support their work on behalf of this community.
“For investment, growth and job creation, I would endeavour to bring investors to Londonderry and if they don’t come to us I will go to them.
“I will ingrain the needs of our young people across all Government departments and support a cross-departmental approach to service delivery.
“I would put health above politics. We cannot play about with our health service. We have over 400,000 people on waiting lists. We can do better.
“I will bring forward proposals for root-and-branch restructuring of the community and voluntary sector that will be fair and equitable and free from political influence.
“The A6 will happen, infrastructure is vital to the further development of our community. We’ve been waiting for years. The time has come to deliver.
“I would help develop and lead a proud community with equal rights for all. I would look after our elderly. They looked after us.
“I would end cronyism and brown envelope deals.
“The UUP will put Londonderry at the forefront of politics, because I would make sure of it.
“I strongly believe that developing an approach to support people, where communities are at the centre of decision making is how Government has to work.
“I believe the Ulster Unionist Party is the party that is best placed to deliver a progressive future for everyone in Northern Ireland.
“That is certainly my commitment and what I will be working to do.
“The last two Assembly terms have been characterised by unfulfilled promises and nowhere is this more apparent than in the number of important OFMDFM strategies that have faced lengthy delays or were never delivered at all.
“The message from the Ulster Unionist Party is very straight forward: the record of failure would not be tolerated in England, Scotland, Wales or the Republic of Ireland.
“This election offers the people of Northern Ireland choices. Do you want more of the same failures or will you vote for change? The Ulster Unionist Party is renewed, refreshed and ready and eager to lead again.
“I’m asking you to vote for change and vote for the Ulster Unionists. Vote Kee 1 on May 5.”
Maurice Devenney, Independent Unionist
“You’ve heard my record. I’ve been elected to the Council here in Londonderry for the past eleven years and I’ve worked tirelessly for the community, the unionist community and every community here in the city.
“I had the honour of serving as Mayor of the city in 2011/2012.
“I also had the honour of serving twice as Deputy Mayor and I chaired the Planning Committee and the Airport Committee over that period, that was in the old Council and I was delighted to get re-elected in 2014 to the new Council.
“I was Vice-Chair of that new Council in its first year.
“First of all, everyone knows my track record here in the city of being a hard worker and a deliverer for the people and if elected I will do my utmost and best to deliver for the people here in Foyle and I will continue to lobby to deliver funding for our community groups who play a very vital and important role within our communities and deliver very much an added service.
“I will also support the constituency dealing with the day-to-day issues that constituents raise such as planning, benefits and housing issues.
“Those are all issues that happen on a daily basis.
“I will also continue to lobby for additional funding for our roads service
“When we look at our roads in 2016 I would have to say they are in the worst condition I’ve seen them in 20 years and I don’t think that anyone would disagree with that.
“The A5, I’m very supportive of the A5 but I would have preferred the A5 to have been along the old A5, the new rendition of it, but I’m very supportive of the A5.
“But I have to say that working with a number of people who are affected by the A5, and those in the farming community who are looking for compensation, that I would lobby for the right compensation for those farmers.
“I would also say I would lobby for the dwellers who live along the A5 because they have been impacted.
“There are environmental issues relating to noise and the value of their properties so that would be a strong argument for myself to raise if elected to the Assembly.
“The health service: I think questions have to be asked about our health service and the failure within our health service.
“And I think everyone is very much au fait that we have around 400,000 on the waiting lists across Northern Ireland and some people waiting in Altnagelvin for almost two years for appointments.
“I think that is totally wrong. I think the Assembly owes the people of Foyle here more, there needs to be more done there, more savings and more money, additional money, towards that service, because it has not been providing the service that the public here would like.
“Our education system: I would lobby for an improved education system, because when we look at our education system, it is a shambles.
“We have the 11 plus, which was taken away by Martin McGuinness a number of years ago.
“We have nothing there that replaced the 11 plus and I have to say that we have different schools, drawing on a number of different exams for young children and I believe that it’s wrong, that we should have one system, one that fits all.
“Now the argument that I would have, from parents, is that, the age of 11, is that the right age to be segregating our children? At that young age? Do we wait until they are 14? That’s a debate, I’m willing to be open and listen to.
“Being a rural Councillor, I would lobby for the farming community and rural dwellers because I believe in 2016 rural dwellers have become almost second-class citizens with the roads and the infrastructure that we had there, some, as I said earlier on, the worst that I have seen in twenty years. “And on the issue of Europe, within the farming community, my option would be to come out.
“What I would say about coming out of Europe is that the farming community is under serious, serious pressure at the moment so they are, the red tape and the bureaucracy, they have to go through to receive their single farm payment, and the rules and regulations that guide farming today.
“They are told not to spread slurry even if it’s wet weather, they are told not to cut their hedges...
“I also believe that as the European community expands we will get less back if we stay in. So my option for Europe is to come out.
“I will also continue and lobby for support for victims of the Troubles because I also believe that victims of the Troubles have been left behind in the last two Assembly terms.
“People are very unclear. When you look at Bloody Sunday: £200m spent on an inquiry and we have families here and other families across Northern Ireland, who can’t even get an inquiry so I do believe that that needs to be rectified and we do have to be very, very clear on that.
“I would also promote our culture and identity and I don’t think Maurice Devenney needs to give any indication of where he comes from, in terms of his unionist values, in terms of his unionist traditions and I believe in our bands and our culture and all our society.
“I will also work continually to work to promote jobs and investment in this city.
“I think when you look at jobs in the city we are lacking in jobs, so we are. We have some investment but when you look at the jobs creation in Northern Ireland, the North West takes the short straw on it.
“I think, if my figures are right, Invest Northern Ireland created 30,000 jobs in the last year, 2,800 of them came to the North West and that’s not to the city.
“I’m standing here as an independent unionist tonight and I believe that without the shackles of being involved in a mainstream party, I hope to say what my views are.
“I won’t be three-line whipped into saying x, y or z and I do believe that I can bring unionists along with me who have not voted for quite a number of years and I would ask those voters who haven’t come out to come out this time and vote.”
Gary Middleton, Democratic Unionist
“It’s been an honour for me to serve as MLA since April 2015. In the short space of time I was there, I was straight in and served on the Environment, the DSD, Finance and Health Committees as well.
“In each of those Committees I spoke up and raised the issues that matter, whether that be on the Environment Committee, with Local Government reform and the devolution of powers here to the local Council, working with and challenging the Departmental officials on the Health committee around the rise in suicide figures or investment here in the North West.
“I’ve met over the last number of months with dozens of organisations in various sectors to hear about their concerns and assist them in any way that I could.
“As one of the youngest MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly I was giving a fresh perspective to a lot of the discussions that were going on around the table.
“And of course, I’m saying that it is important that we work as a team and be part of a strong team because I am not going to stand here and tell you that I will deliver everything under the sun on my own. I need a strong team with me.
“That’s why we have a strong team in Council, we have a strong team of MLAs, and of course, and our MPs at Westminster.
“I’m seeking a mandate at this election to continue to work for the people of Foyle over the next couple of years.
“The DUP, of course, have a clear plan, a manifesto for the next five years, and Arlene foster has outlined our five priorities.
“These are around health...we want an additional £1billion put into health over the next five years.
“There are huge savings, efficiency savings have been created over the past five years. We have reinvested that. We need to see more of that over the next five years.
“Education, investment in infrastructure, the A5, the A6. It was a DUP Minister, the DRD Minister, who made progress on those and I think that has to be remembered as well.
“We pay the least amount of household tax compared with the rest of the UK, we pay £500 less than the rest of the UK and that’s down to the success of devolution.
“Jobs. I am out day and daily working with businesses, speaking to employers. I was out in America in January speaking to investors along with another delegation from the Assembly and this is what needs to happen in this constituency and we need to continue that work.
“I’ve worked hard. I’ve laid the groundwork but I need your support to continue. Over the past number of weeks myself and my team have been knocking the doors and we’ve heard a clear message on the doorsteps.
“The unionist community want unionists to work together to ensure they secure the only unionist seat in this constituency.
“I’m standing in this election, not out of spite or anything other, I’m standing because I believe I’m the best candidate to represent my constituents.
“I’m asking that you vote Middleton, number one, and help secure the only unionist seat in this constituency.”
If you’re still undecided about who to cast your vote for next Thursday, you can view the full debate here.