Republican News · Thursday 14 February 2002

[An Phoblacht]

New face on the block

Pádraig MacLochlainn will be co-opted onto Buncrana Urban District Council on 13 February, following the stepping down of Jim Ferry. Last month, he was adopted as Sinn Féin's general election candidate for Donegal North East. An Phoblacht's MICK DERRIG visited him to get the measure of the man.

Probably the stupidest question I have asked in any interview at any time came out of my mouth in Letterkenny last night. I asked Pádraig how long he had been a republican.

He flashed me an understanding smile that belies his tender 28 years.

It was a feckin stupid question given what he had already told me.

Pádraig MacLochlainn was born in Leeds, England, but normal family life for this Irish family ended sonn after, in November 1974, when Pádraig's father, Reamonn MacLochlainn, was captured by Crown forces while operating as part of a highly successful Óglaigh na hÉireann unit in England. Pádraig was 18 months old. His toddler memories of his father were through screens in the monthly visits that Special Category prisoners were allowed.

Many people have a view of Padraig that he is old for his years, wise beyond 28. We don't need to look for any other reason than this. Pádraig told me of the remarkable bond that his father was able to forge with his son, despite only seeing him once a month in the most unnatural of settings.

"Each letter we would get (he was allowed to send one letter a week) would have a question in it for me," he told me. "He would ask me to find out about a country or give me two new words. He was educating me and communicating with me as a father through letters. When we met up for the visit I had to have the answers for him."

Perhaps this gave Pádraig a view of education that didn't involve schools or formal teaching. He is currently progressing through academia like many a POW did - by correspondence. He was recently awarded a Diploma in Social Studies through open learning. I have a feeling he won't be stopping at a Diploma.

Donegal's problems can only be dealt with on a cross-border, 32-county basis. Sinn Féin is the best placed party to deliver on that, given our political strength in the Six Counties and our all-island vision.

- Pádraig MacLochlainn

Padraig and his mother returned home to Donegal when Pádraig was ten in anticipation of Reamonn's release.

Although for Pádraig Donegal was "home", like many second-generation Irish kids he wasn't welcomed at school as a returning Irish kid. "By this time we had been living in Birmingham for most of my short life. I had this broad brummie accent."

For the children in his Buncrana school accent meant nationality in the simple way that children see things. "I was taunted with 'Paddy Brit!' 'Paddy Brit!' initially."

Initially? I asked. "A few busted noses fixed that."

Pádraig's father came home just as his son had proven to the other Irish kids at the school that he was no Brit and he would fight to prove it.

Remember I had asked how long he had been a republican? Well, I told you it was a stupid question at the start!

His father came home to his family, his comrades and his country in December 1983. Pádraig was ten. He then had two wonderful years with his Da, enjoying a normal family home.

Volunteer Reamonn MacLochlainn, having survived highly dangerous IRA operations in England and ten years in an English gaol, died in a tragic accident in 1985 when Pádraig had barely turned 12. Perhaps because of this, Pádraig was an early school leaver - he wanted to get out and work for his Ma. After trying a series of wee jobs he settled on painting and decorating - which he does to this day.

In his early 20s, he found himself signing on. At the tender age of 23 he realised that the unemployed of North Donegal needed organising. He joined the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) and they quickly realised what a find they had. He was elected to their national executive in 1996. He remained on that executive for four years and for that time he was the INOU's spokesperson in Donegal.

In the same year, he was elected onto the Board of the Inishowen Partnership. This is a local development company tasked with the economic regeneration of the peninsula.

He was elected from the community group sector and is rightly proud that he topped the poll. He remained on the board for five years.

He is presently a director of Action Inishowen, a public body tasked with fostering economic development and tackling social exclusion.

He's been formally a member of Sinn Féin since we allowed him to join.

In his teens he had good personal and political role models. His father's brother took over much of the mentoring of young Pádraig and his political cradle was rocked by none other than Buncrana Councillor Eddie Fullerton. Pádraig was campaigning with Eddie the day before Eddie was murdered. Pádraig was 18.

"We were picketing environment minister Pee Flynn about the proposed Du Pont incinerator," he recalls. "Flynn was opening a sewage plant outside Buncrana. Now everyone knows what Pee Flynn was up to. We were right to picket him and to suspect his motives. Eddie taught me a lot and I'm still learning."

Already, his Leinster House candidacy is having an effect on the ground. People who know, trust and respect him are joining Sinn Féin in Inishowen, natural Sinn Féin territory that has never recovered from the loss of Eddie Fullerton. Now I think we have a successor in the making.

I concluded my interview with a question only mildly sillier than the one with which I started the interview.

"Why Sinn Féin?"

I got another understanding smile and then a blast of policy.

"Sinn Féin is the only party equipped to tackle the economic decline of Donegal North East because of its all-island nature, " he said. "Unemployment in Donegal is 14%, four times the average for the 26 Counties. But it isn't with a 26-County mindset that we will fix this.

"Recently, County Manager Michael McLoone and Michael Heaney, Head of Donegal County Council's Social & Enterprise Unit, stated that services could be best delivered in Donegal by dividing the county into two, with the North of the county integrated with Derry and West Tyrone and the south of the county connected to Fermanagh. This shows that the professionals on the ground, the senior service planners in the county, have an anti-Partition perspective. They know that Donegal's problems can only be dealt with on a cross-border, 32-county basis. We are currently suffering from 'Back to back' development.

"Sinn Féin is the best placed party to deliver on that, given our political strength in the Six Counties and our all-island vision."

d at that he was off, flopping away in his painter's overalls.

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