2015 Westminster Election 2015 Newry/Armagh

April 13, 2015

In the second of our series of election profiles, we speak to SDLP Westminster candidate Justin McNulty, the former Armagh senior footballer, All-Ireland winner and Laois Manager who is competing for the Newry and Armagh seat.

Billed by the SDLP as the “pride of Armagh” 39 year old Justin McNulty is throwing his hat into the political ring for the very first time although he has been an SDLP member for a number of years. In his own words, he aims to become the “voice of Newry and Armagh in Westminster for the first time in ten years.”

The Mullaghbawn man describes his election race as a “movement for change” rather than merely a campaign and says he has been “overwhelmed” by the positivity within his election team and from the people he meets while out canvassing.

“It’s incredibly heartening –  so much so that it doesn’t feel like a campaign, it feels like a movement for change.

“People want to move away from the petty politics of the past.

“They want someone who will work on the future so the reaction on the doorstep has been extremely positive.”

Speaking about the leap from GAA star to political contender, Mr McNulty says,

“Of course people who’ve been involved in GAA know me.  It is a big part of my life and a big part of who I am.  Outside of my family and friends GAA defines me most as a person and I can’t shy away from that.

“People know me as a competitor and know that I’m in this to win and that I’m not just here to make up the numbers.

“They see my energy, my passion, my commitment to making a difference. That’s why I’m here –  to make a positive impact on our community going forward and to help Newry and Armagh not just survive but thrive and its time for someone to go and give the area a voice in Westminster.

“I’ve been lucky to have been involved in a team which was so successful and very lucky to have been involved with such a group of players and manage a team who all were fully aligned towards achieving a goal.

“Now I’ve got a new team which is fully aligned and steadfastly focused on the goal ahead.

“We have tremendous positivity, power and strength of spirit in our movement for change and it is something that I am completely buoyed and energised by.”

Unphased by the UUP/ DUP election pact, McNulty says his only pact is with the people of Newry and Armagh and, in a swipe at a similar “People’s Pact” launched by Sinn Fein he says “It’s flattering that others are following my lead.”

“I don’t think elections should be decided on agreements made in back rooms,” he continues.

“The people of Newry and Armagh have the right to decide.  I’m making my pact with those people who are also very aware that Danny Kennedy can’t win and Mickey Brady won’t go to Westminster so who is their only viable option going forward?

“Who is the person going to fight for them on the floor of the House of Commons? There is only one option, there is only one person going to be a voice for Newry and Armagh and I am that person.”

Outlining his election promises, Justin vows to be a “thorn in the side of David Cameron and the Tory cuts.”

He pledges to fight the increases in the UK defence budget in order to segregate money for better use in Newry and Armagh.

“In Westminster there are proposals to upgrade the Trident Fleet at a cost of billions of pounds. “We need to segregate some of that budget towards Northern Ireland to save our hospitals, to save the stroke unit in Daisy Hill, to re-open the minor injuries unit in Armagh city, to provide better manpower for the GP Out-of-hours service.

“These are all things that matter to people on the ground, so we need money taken away from a defence budget that is not going to help Newry and Armagh and segregated into something that will help our community going forward.

“I’m going to Westminster for a better deal.  That is where the money is held and you cannot affect financial decisions in Stormont. My aim is to make sure there is devolution of fiscal powers and to give the people of Newry and Armagh, the people of Northern Ireland control of the purse strings.”

Justin says his priorities for this constituency will always be “jobs and the economy, health, education, welfare cuts and obviously infrastructure to attract foreign investment to allow our economy to thrive and develop.”

He commends the level of solidarity among the people of Newry and Armagh during the recent rally to protest against the closure of the stroke unit at Daisy Hill hospital and has high praise for the work of SDLP councillors John McArdle, Geraldine Donnelly, and Frank Feely, who, he says have “championed” Daisy Hill for many years.

“We intend to continue to be champions of Daisy Hill hospital for many years to come,” vows Justin.

“We oppose vehemently the proposals to take the stroke unit to Craigavon.  We oppose any potential removal of the acute hospital stance of Daisy Hill, which is just a precursor to eventual closure.

“We need a hospital in Newry and Armagh and we need to explore North South co-operation further to make sure that there is a viable business case for the hospital.”

Fighting for the education sector is also high on his agenda, he says,

“We’ve seen proposals to cut 500 teaching posts and the imminent loss of 1,000 teaching staff jobs.  This will not have a positive effect on education.  We need to fight that very firmly and ensure our children get the opportunity to get education right the first time.

“Overall, we need to see jobs and prosperity in Newry and Armagh.  That’s what we are about – being part of the prosperity process not the austerity process.”

Asked whether hailing from Mullaghbawn, in the heart of Republican south Armagh could be an advantage in trying to top the Sinn Fein majority, Justin says he is “extremely proud” of his roots,

“I’m from the community of south Armagh. It’s who I am, and I hope people can identify with someone who is one of their own.

“I’m one of the people. I want to be on the floor of Westminster fighting for the people as a proud south Armagh man, as a proud Republican, as somebody who wants to stand up for all of the people in Newry and Armagh.

“We’ve witnessed enough petty bickering from the prominent parties over this last number of years.  We seem to be stuck in the past, taking swipes constantly with nobody interested in real progress, nobody really interested in creating jobs and prosperity for Newry and Armagh.

“The SDLP were pioneers of the peace process and we are now going to be pioneers of the prosperity process, we want to move away from austerity and I feel very, very passionately about that.”

On filling the shoes of political heavyweight Seamus Mallon, the last SDLP member to hold the Newry and Armagh seat ten years ago, Justin describes him as a “hero”

“Seamus Mallon embodied leadership and integrity and was a true man of the people.  I will use everything in my power to try to deliver what Seamus Mallon delivered for this area.

“I’ll be inspired every day trying to equal and better the positive contributions that Seamus brought to Newry and Armagh. That’s what my challenge is and I feel very determined to do that.”

Speaking about the “game changing” nature of the current election race, Justin feels there is “heightened engagement and interest” from the electorate and an awareness that “every vote can make a difference.”

“People can take more ownership of the election race this time as every vote really can make a difference so I would encourage people to make a positive difference to help Newry and Armagh to move forward and become more prosperous. There is only one vote that can deliver that and that’s vote McNulty!”

“This is a once in a generation election. The balance of power in Westminster may be held by four seats from the SDLP.  That gives us leverage and power that we can use to deliver better healthcare in Newry and Armagh, better education, to stop the cuts, to attract foreign investment.

“People need to understand there’s only one vote that will make a real difference and that’s a vote for the SDLP.

“We’ve seen ten years of a wasted seat so we need someone who is going to go to work to effect change. A vote for other parties is a backdoor vote for the Tories and people need to recognise that. The establishment over this last ten years has failed to deliver and it now  needs someone who can deliver real tangible results for this area and I’m the man who can do that for the people of Newry and Armagh.”