Youthful outlook for Sinn Fein as new Assembly Member chosen

July 3, 2012

By Christine Keighery

Dromintee native, Megan Fearon, is set to become the youngest member of the Assembly as she steps into Conor Murphy’s shoes as MLA for Newry and South Armagh. The twenty year old student was selected by Sinn Féin party members at a convention held last Monday.

Within the past weeks Megan has completed her studies towards a BA honours degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and she hopes to graduate later in the summer.

Her candidacy was proposed by local councillor Packie McDonald, who took the opportunity to wish his party colleague well in the future,

“I have worked with Megan on a number of election campaigns over the years and I have always found her to be professional and diligent with any task undertaken.

“Locally Megan has been an advocate for youth issues such as drugs awareness and promoting positive mental health.  I know that she will provide a strong voice for all the people of Newry and Armagh and young people in particular.

Outgoing MLA of 14 years Conor Murphy spoke warmly of Megan during the convention saying,

“I am delighted to endorse this bright, energetic and intelligent young woman.  Megan will be a welcome asset to the Newry Armagh constituency and I look forward to working closely with her.

The Examiner posed some questions to the newest MLA about what the upcoming role means to her and the challenges that lie ahead.

How do you feel about your upcoming role and the fact that you are currently the youngest MLA?

“I am delighted to have been selected from within Sinn Féin to replace Conor Murphy in the Assembly.  I know that the role will be a challenge but I also know that, through hard work, it will be extremely rewarding and fulfilling to represent the constituents of Newry Armagh.

“The fact that I am the youngest MLA is not something which I dwell on.  As they say, age is really just a number!  I feel that my youth is a positive as I understand the issues and problems facing young people across Ireland.  I am a young person so their issues are my issues as well.”

You’ve gone from University life to taking a seat in the Assembly – a huge step. How do you think you will cope with this complete culture shock?

“For me, going into the Assembly is a huge honour.  I know that it will be a very different way of life to that of a student, however, I have been a member of Sinn Féin for the past 5 years and I have always taken a keen interest in politics and been involved in different and versatile campaigns.  I am familiar with the workings of the Assembly and I am very lucky in that the Sinn Féin team in Stormont is very strong, so all of this will help me make the transition to life as an MLA.”

Are you daunted by the changes that lie ahead?

“Change is never plain sailing and there are teething problems in every walk of life.  However I think this would be the same if I were taking up other full time employment or emigrating in search of work.  I am going into the Assembly with a positive attitude and I will do my very best there on behalf of the people I represent.”

Do you feel at such a young age, you can successfully identify with some of the issues you’ll be dealing with as an MLA? How would you respond to fears that your youth may be a barrier and that you may not be in tune with what the population needs?

“I absolutely feel that age should not be a barrier to public service.  The population of Newry Armagh is approximately 113,000 people.  64,500 – well over half of these people, are aged under 40.  I would argue that there are not enough younger people putting themselves forward as public representatives.

“I don’t claim to be an expert in all issues, but no one is.  I am extremely lucky in that Sinn Féin has a very strong team across Newry Armagh and in South Armagh in particular.  I will have the support of the MP,Conor Murphy, my other two MLA colleagues, 14 councillors on Newry & Mourne Council and 6 on Armagh Council, as well as hundreds of Sinn Féin activists so together we will provide exemplary service to the people of the constituency.”

Do you anticipate being viewed as a ‘soft target’ because of your age or experience?

I think a person should be judged on their actions, I have a lot more experience than my years might suggest.  As I have said I believe youth brings qualities such as energy, enthusiasm, new ways of seeing things, expertise in new media and newer technologies and that is all good.

Having said that I know many people twice and three times my age who are as bright and vibrant as they were when they were 20, so although the media have latched on to the age issue for me it is not something I think about at all.

You’ve been a longterm Sinn Fein activist. What is your history with the party and the path that led to becoming an MLA?

“I come from a family with a long republican history.  My mother’s brother, Jim Lochrie, was a Volunteer and he sadly died on active service in 1975, aged 19.  From a very young age I was politically minded and, as soon as I could, I joined my local Sinn Féin Cumann in Dromintee.  When I went to college, I immediately joined the Sheena Campbell Cumann in Queens and served as chairperson for one year.

“In my political life to date, I have been involved in anti drugs campaigns and initiatives encouraging women into politics as well as numerous election campaigns over the years.

“I became involved in politics because I believe there must be changes in society.  I am a political activist who also happens to be an MLA and right now my role is to serve the public through the Assembly.”