“I HAVE thoroughly enjoyed my time,” says SDLP councillor Kate Lagan who will retire from local government next month after a 22-year career.
A former Chair of Magherafelt District Council, Kate has the added distinction of being its longest-serving female member.
On reflecting upon the highs and lows of being a public representative, it is clear that she is not one to dwell on the negative. “Looking back, you don’t recall the bad or frustrating times as much as the good ones. You feel a wonderful satisfaction of the hard work that you have put in and the good results that you have achieved.”
The results have indeed been many and, tellingly, the ‘high points’ of Kate’s career all involve the empowerment of others - her key aims, she explains, had always been to alleviate poverty, increase or maximise benefits, bridge communities, campaign for the rights of older people and women and to help local constituents obtain planning permission for new homes.
She was instrumental in setting up the Fuel Poverty Committe and the Fuel Poverty Stamp Scheme, which she describes as her “proudest achievements.”
It was an honour, she stresses, to be elected as Chair of Magherafelt Council, a role that enabled her to tackle another key issue – “I was very aware that there many women working on ground level with communities and who felt that they were unable or incapable of taking positions as political representatives. I wanted to influence or inspire them in any way that I could.”
In fact, Kate has been an influential figure for many, not solely women. For years, she has immersed herself in cross-community work and in everyday issues in her home town of Maghera. Recently, she worked alongside others to ensure that Fairhill Youth Centre re-opened, which involved acquiring two separate grants.
“From the peace services in the 1980s in old Leisure Centre in Maghera to the Community Forum, I have been interested in bringing communities together in Maghera and across Magherafelt District,” she explains.
“I aim to continue working at local level with community groups and with charities such as cancer research. I will have more time to do so and to spend with family and friends.”
Her political career kick-started as the result of a by-election in 1991 – Kate envisaged that the post would be open for a year-and-a-half. “It was my intention to gain experience of local government! I was still teaching (Glenview Primary School, Maghera). I didn’t think that I would still be here!”
“I’ve enjoyed my time. Of course, there were low points – I remember waking up in the early 1990s and switching on teletext each day to see what horrendous events had taken place during the night. Fortunately this changed.”
Although Kate is ‘bowing out,’ she will be keeping a close eye on the political scene. “I am sad that I will not see the rolling out of the new council: I will be very interested to see how that plays out. I just hope that it will deliver as good a service to the people as Magherafelt District Council has in the past.” She adds: “I’d like to thank everyone for the wonderful support I’ve always had. I received 100 per cent support from officers and staff of MDC, my fellow councillors of all persuasions, members of the SDLP and from members of the public who would stop me in the street and give words of encouragement. To be successful you need support, and I received this in abundance.”