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New MP speaks of ‘building bridges’ with unionism

Órfhlaith Begley.

Sinn Féin’s Órfhlaith Begley will make her first visit to Westminster this week as West Tyrone’s new MP.

The first woman and the youngest person to represent the constituency, she took the seat with just under 8,000 votes to spare over the DUP’s Tom Buchanan.

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Against the backdrop of Barry McElduff’s resignation in the wake of the Kingsmill controversy, Sinn Féin’s performance on Thursday came under close scrutiny.

Against an overall decline in turnout, the party’s share of the vote fell by four per-cent. Yet with 16,346 votes, the 46.7 per-cent share of the vote suggested Sinn Féin had weathered the storm.

In her acceptance speech, Órfhlaith Begley spoke of “lessons to be learned” and recognising and acknowledging “the pain that exists, and across all communities”.

She also called for all in public life “at all times to be sensitive in their words and in how their words can be understood”.

Speaking afterwards, with an energy sapping campaign clearly taking its toll on her vocal chords, the Carrickmore woman reiterated her belief that the offence caused by Barry McElduff had been “unintentional”.

Nevertheless she added, “Unfortunately that hurt was caused.”

The message focused on ‘bridge building’ and it was one stated more than once by the new MP in the early hours of Friday.

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Echoing the recent tone of Sinn Féin’s new President Mary Lou McDonald, Órfhlaith Begley said, “What I’m about is building for the future, reaching out to unionism and building bridges between our communities so that we can live in a shared and reconciled future together.” 

A surprise choice for many to contest the seat vacated by Barry McElduff, the Carrickmore woman has undergone a meteoric rise of sorts, catapulted into the spotlight to become, in the words of Mary Lou McDonald, a national politician.

But seemingly unflustered by her new status, the new MP said, “It’s not about being a high profile politician, it’s about being on the ground, listening to the views of constituents and being an advocate for them. Hopefully in the time ahead I can do just that.”

Among the issues she said she intends to champion is the proposed A5 dual carriageway, as well as the issue of rural broadband.

Intending to hit the ground running, Ms Begley will be heading to London this week. Yet despite the fact she won’t take her seat in the House of Commons, she said wants to represent the entire constituency.

“I want to be an MP that represents every part of the constituency and represents every walk of life and every different person within West Tyrone.

“I want to be accessible and approachable and my door will be open to every single constituent.”

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