Michelle Gildernew (born 28 March 1970) is an Irish Republican, Sinn Féin politician who has been the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development since 8 May 2007 and is the current Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Gildernew is also a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the same constituency and has been since 25 June1998.
Gildernew is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is currently serving as the Minister for Agriculture, successfully tackling the blue-tongue epidemic which spread across the North East of Ireland. She has successfully established Cross-Border activity on tackling the issues surrounding funding for farmers both sides of the border and enabling smoother trading links she also served as vice chair of the Committee of Social Development. She has been a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle (National Executive) and is the party's spokeswoman on equality and housing.
The Sinn Féin website stated in March 2008 the parties intentions to stand Michelle as a candidate for the 2011 Irish presidential elections in order to have a senior Sinn Féin party member in place as president by the centenary of the Easter Rising (i.e. 2016). It is not believed that party president Gerry Adams will be running for president.
Born in Dungannon
, Gildernew attended St Catherine's College Armagh
and later the University of Ulster
. After graduating from university Michelle travelled extensively in Europe
, the United States
where she worked for a year. On her return in 1996 she stood for Sinn Féin
in the Forum elections for Fermanagh/South Tyrone. In 1997 she was appointed Sinn Féin
representative to London
. She was elected MLA for Fermanagh/South Tyrone in the 1998 Assembly elections and has successfully retained her seat in the 2003 and 2007 elections. While in London she was part of the first Sinn Féin delegation to Downing Street in December 1997.
Appointment to the Northern Ireland Executive
Michelle made national headlines when she challenged her southern counter-parts speaking on motions 131 and 137, on an all Ireland approach to the rural crisis.
It is time to challenge the smugness of southern politicians. Partition is not just bad for nationalists living in the 6 Counties. People in the 26 Counties lose out because of partition just as people in the 6 Counties lose out. People in the northwest, people in border areas all lose out because of partition.
A way past
But there is a way past all of this; past the intransigence of unionism, past the dead hand of the northern civil service and past the West Brit Dublin mindset that has abandoned rural Ireland and our urban communities. It is by building on Good Friday Agreement commitments; by delivering on the commitments already agreed by the British and Irish governments to deliver genuine progress on the all-Ireland Agenda. By making the most of the development opportunities of the Common Chapter. In February 2004 Sinn Féin submitted a detailed 75-page document outlining plans for the expansion of the all-Ireland Agenda. Finally now others can help us develop the necessary consensus to deliver on that.
In recent times Peter Hain has recognised that the Six Counties is unsustainable. Now even Dermott Ahern is looking past his blinkered narrow electoral agenda.Sinn Féin set the pace. Now others are catching up. This developing consensus must translate into action.It must translate into new thinking and a new willingness to press ahead.We need to see new areas of cooperation and common policy.In areas such as education and health can we open the doors of opportunity.
North and South relations
Autism and Cancer research
Projects such as the proposed Autism Centre and the cancer research partnership between the north and south of Ireland and the USA pool resources and expertise were developed when Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún were ministers in the 6 County Executive. Yet, nowhere is the all Ireland approach more urgent that in tackling the rural crisis that is affecting much of Ireland.
Isle of Man relations
Meetings with Minister
Agriculture Minister Ms Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, has met with her Isle of Man Ministerial counterpart Mr Phil Gawne MHK during a local visit.
Mr Phil Gawne MHK (Member of the House of Keys) is the Isle of Man Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Commenting on fisheries matters Ms Gildernew said: “I have noted with interest the Isle of Man’s innovative approach to scallop management, and agreed to explore the potential for co-operation and sharing of expertise in order to develop sustainable and profitable scallop fisheries.”
Ms Gildernew also took the opportunity to raise with Mr Gawne the Manx lobster permit scheme and the waiting list issue which is preventing some Northern Ireland vessels from accessing this fishery.
On economic matters, Ms Gildernew added that: “The direction of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform was also discussed and, in particular, the upcoming CAP ‘Health Check’ and the implications of the likely outcomes were considered in detail. One expected outcome from the CAP Health Check’ is a degree of simplification with respect to the Single Farm Payment scheme."
The Minister welcomed the opportunity of discussing the above with Mr Gawne and indicated that she hoped that his visit had provided him with an insight into fisheries and economic issues of common concern.
She first won the westminster
seat in the 2001 election, winning the seat (previously held by Ken Maginnis
of the Ulster Unionist Party
) with a majority of 53, due to a divided Unionist
vote. Gildernew retained the seat in the 2005 vote, significantly increasing her majority to 4,582
2000 Westminster Election
Michelle made Sinn Féin Candidate
The odds on Fermanagh South Tyrone having its first ever female MP had been shortened considerably with the decision by Sinn Féin to select Ms. Michelle Gildernew as its candidate for the 2000 Westminster elections.
The selection of Ms. Gildernew came as something of a surprise to republicans in Fermanagh - she was chosen ahead of the Westminster election candidate four years ago, Mr. Gerry McHugh, and another long-standing party activist Francie Molloy from Dungannon. All three are members of the Stormont assembly. A spokesman for the party said the three MLAs contested the nomination and that Ms. Gildernew candidature was fully supported by the losing candidates. While the procedure by which Ms. Gildernew was selected has not been revealed, the spokesman for the party said that each cumann (branch) in the constituency had an input in her selection.
Nonetheless the selection of Ms. Gildernew ahead of Mr. McHugh will prompt speculation that the party's leadership had an influence on the outcome of Monday's convention. In an article in a Sunday newspaper published in June it was suggested that Mr. McHugh was regarded in leadership circles as a "fundamentalist" and that Ms. Gildernew was more in keeping with the party's new image. The party has also been eager to promote women up through the ranks.
However it will have been noted that Mr. McHugh has built up a considerable power base, especially in the Fermanagh end of the constituency and in the 1997 elections he outpolled the SDLP's Tommy Gallagher and increased his winning margin in the 1998 assembly elections.
The worry for Sinn Féin is that choosing a candidate from outside the county could see Fermanagh voters drifting to the SDLP if, as expected, that party selects Belleek-based assembly member Mr. Gallagher.
With the then sitting MP, Mr. Ken Maginnis, expected not to stand the next time around, both nationalist parties believed there was a realistic chance of taking the seat, especially if Mr. Maginnis's successor is in the UUP's 'yes' camp and the Ulster Unionist vote is affected by a strong DUP showing. That said, the UUP candidate would still be strongly favoured to win the seat given that a redrawing of the constituency boundaries has transferred several thousand mainly nationalist voters to neighbouring Mid-Ulster.
Civil Rights Impact in 2000 election
Although her name is synonymous with the start of the civil rights campaign - her mother was at the centre of the famous eviction incident in Caledon in 1968 which prompted widespread protests about discrimination in housing allocation - Ms. Gildernew has been an up-and-coming member of the party for some time. Formerly based in London where she was head of Sinn Féin's foreign affairs department, Ms. Gildernew is currently a member of the social development committee at the Stormont assembly.
Young Farmer Initiative
Young Farmer Council
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA was the special guest at the event and added a touch of sparkle to the event. Sponsored by NFU Mutual Insurance Society and BDO Stoy Hayward, the event is the finale of the YFCU annual Arts Festival and on the night the members of the five participating clubs were awarded with plaques and certificates for their contribution to the overall effect of the performances.
Members from Garvagh, Glarryford, Kilraughts, Kilrea and Moneymore Young Farmers’ Clubs treaded the boards at the Millennium Forum and showcased the talent that exists within the YFCU membership. BBC Radio Ulster’s Gerry Anderson acted as compère on the night and added a touch of humour between acts. Also, the Patron of the YFCU the Duke of Abercorn K.G. made a guest appearance and enjoyed the entertainment on display.
After all the clubs had taken to the stage, special guest Minister for Agriculture Michelle Gildernew MP MLA addressed the sold out crowd and commented on the performances. Speaking at the event the Minister said:
“It is wonderful to see the range of talents that these young people possess. Their enthusiasm and commitment to put on such professional performances is exemplary. It is clear to me that the Young Farmers’ Clubs are a very positive force in the social and cultural development of our young people,”
The Minister concluded:
“The drive and exuberance shown bodes equally as well for our industry as it does for our cultural heritage. The skills on display included leadership, communication, team working and great organisation. All of which, when coupled with confidence and experience, are directly transferable into working life and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this in the future,”
Minister Gildernew then presented members of each of the five clubs who performed at the Gala with certificates and plaques for Outstanding Merit. Other special awards were also presented to individuals within all the contributing clubs who took part in the Arts Festival that adjudicators David McClarty, Ross Anderson and Robin Hewitt felt deserved a special mention for their contribution to the overall effect of the performances.
Support for Badger Act
Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA has welcomed the Report of the Badger
The report, which was agreed on 25 February 2008
, outlines the position of the group, summarises the information they assessed and proposes a range of actions, which are aimed at gathering information to better inform future decisions relating to badgers and the control of TB in cattle.
Tackling the Problem
Commenting on the report, the minister said: “I welcome the findings and recommendations of this report as a good contribution to our considerations on how we tackle the issue of Tuberculosis and badgers in the North. I will give the group’s recommendations my full consideration. I realise that the actions recommended by the group will take time to complete but I can see that they are necessary to help us decide whether a badger intervention strategy would help achieve a cost-effective reduction in TB
incidence in cattle
in the North.
“I would like to thank the Badger Stakeholder Group for their very important and valuable contribution to this area. I recognise and appreciate the considerable effort and personal contribution made by the farming industry, environmental, veterinary and academic members of the group who were tasked with delivering a report on such a challenging topic.
“We have made considerable progress with TB in recent years in the North, with a reduction of nearly 50% since the peak levels for the disease in 2002. I am determined to achieve further significant reductions in TB and will continue to push forward and do as much as I can in moving towards the elimination of TB here. Given that the trend in disease levels here since 2002 has been downwards, I will want to ensure that any action we initiate here is clearly going to be of benefit and at the very least will not make things worse and reverse the currently positive trend.”
- Statecraft: Strategies for Northern Ireland by Michelle Gildernew (HarperCollins, 2002) ISBN 0-06-019973-3
- The Collected Speeches of Republicanism by Michelle Gildernew, Robin Harris (editor) (HarperCollins, 1997) ISBN 0-00-255703-7
- The Path to Freedom (Thatcher)|The Path to Power by Michelle Gildernew (HarperCollins, 1995) ISBN 0-00-255050-4
- The Stormont Years by Margaret Thatcher (HarperCollins, 1993) ISBN 0-00-255354-6
- The Island that should be free by Tony Wheeler (Lonely Planet)