Unprecedented third consecutive woman Mayor Hilary McClintock vows to make a difference in Londonderry and Strabane

Hilary McClintock. INLS0914-124KM
Hilary McClintock. INLS0914-124KM

Three years after taking a course encouraging more women into public life, DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock, is set to complete an unprecedented three year run of female Mayoralties in the Maiden City and Strabane.

No major town on the island has ever promoted women to first citizenship with such regularity, though Mildred Garfield and Kathleen McCloskey and later Lynn Fleming and Helen Quigley have served back-to-back terms in Londonderry in the recent past.

Following her nomination on Monday evening, the new Mayor said it was a great honour, both to have been selected by her party, the DUP, but also to be following so closely in the footsteps of predecessors Brenda Stevenson and Elisha McCallion.

“I’ll be the third female Mayor in a row, which is quite an honour as well. I think it is unprecedented here. As far as I know it is the first time there have been three in a row.

“And three Mayors from three different parties. So it’s quite nice that women are being elevated to this position in the SDLP, Sinn Féin and now the DUP as well,” she said.

The new Mayor, who coincidentally, is only six letters off sharing a name with the most famous female politician on the planet, US Presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, says her nomination reflects something of a sea-change in women’s representation here politically.

Up until Michelle McIlveen and, later, Emma Little-Pengelly, joining Arlene Foster on the Executive in Autumn 2015, unionist parties’ record in terms of promoting women had been execrable.

In fact, immediately prior to Mrs McIlveen and Mrs Little-Pengelly’s promotion there had been more Protestant women, Heather Humphreys and Jan O’Sullivan, in senior office in Dublin, than in Belfast.

But that’s all changed now and Mrs McClintock, for one, is glad to be leading the charge for the party in the North West.

“The big thing for us, it’s a big year for women in the party with Arlene Foster being First Minister as well. It’s nice to be the first citizen down here in the same year.

“All the women who have been elected to Stormont within our party have all positions of responsibility. They are not token women. They are there in their own right and because they can do the job. You have Emma Pengelly, Paula Bradley. They are either Ministers or Chairs. They are not token women. They are there in their own right. So it’s a great example to women really anywhere, what you can achieve.”

Mrs McClintock is also conscious of the fact that she is the first woman unionist to serve as Mayor since Mildred Garfield fifteen years ago.

“Mildred’s a big act to follow. She was a very good Mayor, a very good people person.”

The well-known Waterside community workers’ political rise has been remarkably swift.

Mayor, just two years after being elected to the new Derry City and Strabane District Council, Mrs McClintock, says she only really decided to take the plunge into politics shortly before then.

“I become involved in Foyle Women’s Information Network and through that I did a course, ‘Women into Public Life,’ which was a cross-border course.

“There were a lot of women from Donegal and a lot of women from the city here as well and that was really what spurred me on because I’ve often said it since, that I went into that course, when other people were talking about going into political life, I went in saying, ‘Why me? How could I ever do that?’

“But I ended up doing a vox pop for a video and I ended up saying, ‘Why not me?’ That’s what spurred me on. That was about three years ago and I still have those contacts with those women from the city and Donegal, life-long friendships are there, and the strange thing is I’m, as far as I know, the

only person who’s actually taken the step of going into public life.

“I always felt I was the most unlikely one in the course to do that because I was a sort of a shy and retiring type, believe it or not, when I was younger, but I thought, ‘Why not me? You have to take that step.’

“My Christian faith is very, very important to me and my Christian faith comes in there as well, because I would say, anything you’re called to do, you’re given the strength to do it.

“And that’s important to me. If you’re called to a role, you do get the help and strength to do it.”

The Mayor says her goal throughout her term will be to ‘make a difference’ to people’s lives, both personally and corporately, in union with her Councillor colleagues.

“What I’m going to take for a theme for the year is ‘making a difference.’ I feel that I personally can make a difference. All through my career in community development and other places that I’ve worked, I’ve tried to make a difference in people’s lives on a personal basis.

“I worked in the civil service, then I went into play groups, worked with young families, worked in a play group in Strathfoyle, worked in Gobnascale for years in a play group up there, worked in all the community play groups in the city.

“I always felt I was making a difference helping young children and young parents as well. Then I went in as a classroom assistant to Belmont House school and worked in the Woodlands language unit for 13 years and that was with children with specific language impairments and you always felt you were making a difference there.

“I went in to Waterside Area Partnership (WAP) and obviously then I was working with loads of different groups throughout the Waterside and beyond like community groups, sports groups, women’s groups, cultural groups, bands, child care groups, youth clubs and you always felt you were contributing something and I think that’s a big part of what I am. It’s about contributing something personally.

“But with the theme of ‘making a difference’ corporately, as well, as a Council I want to see us making a difference on different levels.

“Making a difference in the lives of older people, making a difference in the lives of younger people.

“I’ll be calling for continued work around Magee, the whole Magee issue and the expansion of Magee.

“It’s about making a difference on all those different levels, in individual lives and corporately for the city as well.”

Mrs McClintock also vowed to continue working towards reconciliation in Londonderry and Strabane throughout the year ahead.

“I’m Democratic Unionist Party through and through but during this year I want to be able to visit anybody, visit everybody. I will do my best to take on as many engagements as I can.

“Whatever invites I get, I’ll look at everything. I want to get out there among people. I love meeting people. I love hearing what people are doing and I want to be Mayor of all of the district.

“There have been precedents set over the years. There has been a lot of good work done and I think it all helps towards better understanding of each other’s traditions. Everybody is the same underneath. People are people.

“Everyone has the same issues and I would like to think that during my year. I would do my bit to try and improve community relations.

“It’s about respect for everybody. We are a diverse people and yet we need to acknowledge our differences and move on and get on with the things that really matter to people.”

The new Mayor said she’s looking forward to the next challenge and that she’s extremely grateful for the love and support of her family who helped encourage her take the leap of faith into public life in the first place.

“I’m married 40 years, have two daughters and three grand children.

“My grandchildren go to school in Letterkenny so I do see them at the weekends.

“It’s important for me to be a big part of their lives. Grannies are very important.”