FIVE months after being elected as West Belfast MLA, Sinn Féin’s Danny Baker has expressed his frustration at the lack of an Executive and Assembly.
Speaking to the Andersonstown News in an in-depth interview exploring the development of the Colin area, Mr Baker said that the DUP continuing to hold back the formation of an Executive is having a detrimental impact on his constituents as we face into worsening economic conditions this winter.
“It is very frustrating for me because I have only been in the chamber a couple of times. There is only one party holding us back, preventing us from working and holding back the democratic wishes of those who elected us back in May,” he said.
“I am eager to learn, and it takes a while to find your feet. For me, I learn best when I’m doing the work such as sitting on committees or using our influence but my work as a councillor will hold me in good stead when the Assembly eventually returns.
“We are facing into the biggest crisis that I have ever faced. I turned 40 this year and have been through recessions but this is affecting everybody and while Stormont won’t be a silver bullet, it can help to mitigate against the worst of this crisis.”
Looking back on how the Colin area has developed in recent years, Danny reflected on his childhood growing up in Twinbrook and how that compares to the facilities on offer for the current generation of young people.
“I have seen the change. I was talking to A-Level students at St Genevieve’s earlier this week and I was telling them that I was doing my A-Levels when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
“It feels like a lifetime ago but I remember the '80s and the '90s, the military occupation in our areas and I am thankful that is something my kids won’t experience.
“The Good Friday Agreement is the only show in town. It has saved lives, it has changed lives but we have much further to go and we need to see the full implementation of that agreement.”
Danny Baker said that he has seen major investment in the Colin area following the boundary changes and the creations of Super Councils.
“In my personal opinion, we were discriminated against under Lisburn Council for all of those decades. We never got the investment, but you have seen that being rectified in recent years.
“I came into Council just as the Brook Leisure Centre plans were being drawn up and as the Mayor, I got to open it.
“I opened a leisure centre in my community where once I used to see burnt out cars, a beat up pitch and military helicopters landing on it from my classroom in St Colm’s.
“We have a multi-million pound leisure facility in our community and you can see the transport infrastructure and what the Glider has brought to our community.”
In recent years, Danny has become heavily involved in youth provision across the Colin area, volunteering with Lagmore Youth Project and more recently Saints Youth Centre.
“If you look at what Lagmore Youth are delivering throughout the week, hundreds of kids are being interacted with,” he continued.
“Down in Saints we have just launched our detached football on a Friday night at the leisure centre.
“On Friday night Lagmore had their detached football on at White Rise, they had all of their programmes on and a kids disco and are interacting with around 400 kids within the area on that one night.”
Danny said that while there has been welcome investment in the area there is much more needed and welcomed news that Education Minister Michelle McIlveen will visit St Colm’s in the coming weeks to discuss the needs of the school when it comes to redevelopment.
“There is no question that St Colm’s need a new state-of-the-art building because it is falling apart.
“The teachers of that school instilled that resilience with kids like myself. They brought kids from maybe achieving a grade D or an F up to a C.
“That was a stepping stone which allowed me to go on and do my A-Levels then a degree. I go into that school and it is still the same corridors and low ceilings.
“While the teachers are brilliant, they deserve a top class building and I look forward to the Minister for Education visiting the school in a few weeks time.
“There is still big projects and investment which need to be delivered in the area and I have a firm belief that we will see that through.”
Danny finished by adding that while Stormont is down, there is still a lot of work going on among community groups to plan for the challenges ahead this winter and commended all those involved for their work.
“We pulled together during the pandemic and I have no doubt that we will all come together to deliver the best we can in the current crisis,” he said.