NS Ulster Unionist Party He is preparing to lead the first representative of working class Catholic origin in the parliamentary elections.
Tephen McCarthy, who grew up in a nationalist home and whose grandfather was killed by loyalist paramilitaries, will be in South Belfast in the poll in May.
The UUP vote has fallen sharply in the constituency he once dominated, but the 33-year-old believes he’s in pole position to lead a fight.
“South Belfast is a place that should be a natural home for a progressive, pro-Union party. “People from all over the world have chosen to make it their home,” he said.
“Cosmopolitan, tolerant and liberal. It symbolizes what Northern Ireland’s success is all about.
“In recent years, younger, more dynamic representatives from other parties have seized the opportunity in the constituency. We’ve seen Alliance, SDLP and Greens have success.
“I hope I can help the UUP be competitive once again in the constituency.
“As a trade unionist who grew up in a Catholic working-class household, I don’t fit into a simple stereotype. I believe my story reflects the diversity that drives South Belfast.”
The grandfather of the UUP candidate, Mickey Lenaghan, was a taxi driver who was shot and killed by the UVF in March 1991. The family believes there is a collusion between the security forces.
Weeks before his murder, another 50-year-old Belfast taxi driver challenged Colin ‘Crazy’ Craig, the second-in-command of the West Belfast UVF.
Mr McCarthy grew up in Falls Road but attended Aquinas Grammar in south Belfast and was an altar boy at St Anthony’s Church after his family moved to Short Strand.
He joined the UUP at the age of 19.
He graduated from the University of Ulster in 2015 with a degree in journalism.
He currently runs Doug Beattie’s constituency office.
“I am inspired by Doug’s leadership and I hope someone from my background is in a strong position to drive change and help the party reflect more of Northern Ireland,” he said.
“Only by reaching out to people like me can we save the Union in a future border survey. Most people are concerned with the work they do, the schools their children attend, the welfare system they can wait for when they need it. Being part of the world’s sixth largest economy offers the best opportunities for everyone here, regardless of religion or community background.
“South Belfast stands for inclusivity, which I believe encapsulates Doug Beattie’s vision of a People’s Union.”
The late Sir John Gorman, UUP MLA for the North Down from 1998-2003, was a Catholic but came from a military and prosperous business background.
Mr McCarthy said he had never seen any inquisitive, but never hostile, members of the UUP from some rural members. He served two years on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council until losing his seat in 2019.
In the last Stormont selection, South Belfast awarded an SDLP, DUP, Alliance, Sinn Fein and Green MLA. The UUP lost its seat in 2016. The party missed the last seat in the constituency against Green leader Clare Bailey in the last two House polls.
The SDLP is trying to get Claire Hanna’s 15,000 majority and win two House seats in the last Westminster election. MLA Matthew O’Toole is seeking reelection and the party has yet to announce its second nominee.
The Alliance is also angling for the two seats that lead Belfast Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl alongside MLA Paula Bradshaw.
DUP MLA Christopher Stalford will run for re-election, as will Sinn Fein Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey.
Mr McCarthy said: “South Belfast is a very competitive constituency and I was intimidated by the challenge that awaited me. I will not break the other sides.
“Claire Hanna is one of my favorite politicians and Kate Nicholl is doing a great job as Lord Mayor. But I believe Doug’s leadership and the trade unionism he represents will resonate in South Belfast.
I hope as a young candidate I can energize the party, win new voters and bring back those who have strayed from us in recent years.”
Supporting same-sex marriage and abortion reform, Mr. McCarthy describes himself as a left-of-center.
“South Belfast is not only a thoroughly affluent constituency, but it also has huge pockets of deprivation,” he said.
“Sandy Row, Village, Lower Ormeau, the Market, and Lower Ravenhill have working-class communities that are increasingly priced out of the real estate market.
“There are homelessness, a growing drug problem, and significant crime and anti-social behavior issues. In particular, improving addiction services will be one of my priorities.”