The interview below was conducted for a series on Slugger.
I had an interesting conversation recently with the Sinn Fein candidate for Castlereagh South, Nuala Toman.
Being honest, I was hoping for an insight into Sinn Fein strategy for the forthcoming elections and, perhaps, a snappy line that I might use as a headline for this article to engage readers.
What I got was a smart, friendly, local political candidate who surprised me with her knowledge, intelligence and experience, and disarmed me somewhat with her candour and focus on the constituency she is standing in.
Nuala has a formidable background. She has a solid academic background in Universities in Glasgow and QUB specializing in educational development, she has worked in Gerry Adams office for Sinn Fein and has held a number of impressive posts on various voluntary bodies.
I was particularly interested in meeting Nuala because of my own interest in marginal constituencies and the demographic changes occurring rapidly in Belfast.
Our meeting in the Sinn Fein Office on the Falls rd was strangely informal. Perhaps I expected a minder or an observer. Perhaps that’s me.
We kicked off with a look at the figures. I know mine and she knew hers.
I asked her about the two key aspects of her constituency, maximizing her vote and growing it.
She was very clear that the strategy within the party was to canvass areas that had never been canvassed before. The response was surprising according to Nuala. She had expected some hostility but experienced engagement. When pressed, she insisted this included what would have been previously perceived as exclusively Unionist areas.
I moved the conversation on, as you do, to the “bread and butter” issues.
Nuala has an admirable list of local issues which she is prioritizing for her campaign including transport, infrastructure, local access issues, housing development and local employment opportunities.
All well and good but what are her chances?In Fahas analysis over on my own site the combined nationalist vote in Castlereagh South should be in excess of 40%. I asked how she anticipated maximizing that vote and growing it.She emphasised the importance of being accessible and engaging with all parts of the community. I then touched on the currently politically topical aspect of ethnic minorities.
This part of Ireland has a long history of immigrant minorities. The Celts, the Normans, the Hugenouts, the Scots planters, the Anglo aristocracy for example.I asked if, given the recent racially motivated incidents in Belfast, Sinn Fein was getting any feedback from these communities. Nuala was interestingly reluctant to comment. Her concern was that by making a comment she may put at risk people in mixed or predominantly loyalist areas. When pressed on the issue she responded that “On the South Belfast DPCSP I have actually ensured Hate Crime is a priority issue and been key to developing a strategy to tackle hate crime.”
The question as to whether Sinn Fein will make a breakthrough in Castlereagh will, of course, be answered on May 22nd.