Commons people: how Nadine Dorries went from Irish Liverpool to Westminster
The Conservative MP has written a novel about the Irish in 1950s Liverpool. She recalls sectarianism in her home city and talks about attitudes to ‘people like me’ in the House of Commons
Nadine Dorries in full flow in the House of Commons
Dorries in ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!’
Imagine Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes with a Scouse accent and you might be close to understanding Conservative MP Nadine Dorries’s story of life for Irish immigrants in Liverpool in the 1950s.
Her first novel, The Four Street s – one of three in a £100,000-deal – is grim. It tells of poverty, insecure employment on the docks, exploitation, domination by the Catholic Church, even rape and sexual abuse.
The story has tales of friendship too, of loyalty, and a sense of community among the poor in days before welfare benefits, even stretching to communal meals when the money had run out.
Sitting in the Pugin Room in the House of Commons, Dorries recalls her own childhood a decade later in the city. She is the daughter of a Mayo-born bus-driver, who died in his 40s, and she lived on a council estate with her English mother on the edge of the Irish enclave.
“They were a very insular community. It reminds me very much of the Somali community today. The children still spoke with an Irish accent because they went to schools that were run by the sisters who had come from Ireland. Everybody they met in their daily lives was Irish. It was very funny to meet kids who spoke differently from me and yet we were both living in Liverpool,” she says.
Sectarianism in Liverpool is a shadow of its former self “but it is still there” – the protests launched against a march honouring James Larkin last year showed that the embers have not been entirely extinguished.
“When I grew up it was very divided: it was very much the Orange Lodge and Catholics,” says Dorries, remembering how she was afraid to leave an office at lunchtime because a Lodge march was passing outside. “You were always being asked, “Are you a Catholic or a Proddie? That was a question that you were always asked in the 1960s and early 1970s.”
She recalls the construction of the city’s 1960s-built Catholic cathedral, the Grade II-listed, if deeply disliked, Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King – better known to some in Liverpool as “Paddy’s Wigwam”.
Today, the situation has improved, partly on the back of work done by churches in the city, which has “been pretty amazing in healing lot of the divisions and rifts which were there,” says Dorries.
She is a mother of three. “My daughter’s boyfriend is a Power,” she says, in a way that only someone of Irish background would say. “He was in Ireland until he was four, when they came here. I told him about Liverpool’s past. He’s 21 now and he was wide-eyed listening to me – that it was that bad.”
Bingo wins and Mayo trips
Dorries spent holidays in Bangor Erris in Mayo, even going to school there on occasions, fuelled by occasional bingo wins by her grandmother.