New faces challenging North’s polarised political orthodoxy

Analysis: Victorious NI21 and socialist candidates claim change is afoot

Darren O' Reilly is a youth worker who was asked by his community to run in the council elections for Derry Strabane. He was elected on the first count, polling ahead of Sinn Fein and others. Carloads of supporters turned out to greet him in Creggan.

Fri, May 30, 2014, 11:21

While the dreary steeples issues of Orange and Green dominated the European and local elections in Northern Ireland as usual, there were some little shifts, a few minor cracks in the façades of those old imposing structures, and some new faces.

Take Johnny McCarthy, for instance, who was the sole success of NI21’s calamitous election campaign, taking a seat in the new council of Lisburn and Castlereagh.

A writer and blogger, he has also performed in comedy venues such as the Empire in Belfast and the International in Dublin. “I am a comedian but working on the standup,” is one of his opening gags.

And it’s a cracker because as a spina bifida sufferer he’s been wheelchair bound from childhood. McCarthy will speak on disability matters when required, he says, but his main focus is on general local issues, and is itching to get stuck into the work.

“I’ve taken so many media calls but what I would really love is for someone to ring me asking me to fix their pavement. I can’t wait to get stuck into the nitty gritty of council work,” he says.

Aged 24 and from Lambeg just outside Lisburn, he says he comes from a nationalist background - his uncle is Eamon Martin, who will be the next Catholic primate of all-Ireland when Cardinal Seán Brady stands down - but sees himself as Northern Irish and just isn’t interested in the constitutional disputes. “We need to stop looking to Westminster or Dublin and focus on Northern Ireland.”

Regardless of the ructions over NI21, he believes the party has a future. He just wants to get things done. “I have never been held back by my disability. If I can’t get in the front door I’ll get in the back door. I will always find a way to do things as best I can.”

Meanwhile, there were scenes of jubilation across in Derry after the victory of independent candidate Darren Pio O’Reilly. In a surprise result, the youth co-ordinator (27) was elected on the first count in the Foyleside district with 1,091 first preference votes.

The scale of O’Reilly’s victory took observers by surprise, particulary as he polled ahead of Sinn Féin. There was a clear air of triumph amongst a crowd that gathered at Creggan strips on Saturday evening to celebrate his election and that of two other independent candidates, Gary Donnelly, a member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, and Dee Quigley.

The winning candidates and their supporters took part in a “victory cavalcade” through the city with tricolours fluttering out of their cars. The beeping horns became particularly loud as they passed Derry police station.

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