PAUL Maskey admits that he enjoys election campaigns and getting to talk to people on the doorsteps. This is a short election campaign, he says, after the unexpected call by Rishi Sunak last month, but now that it’s here, he’s back in the fray and engaging with voters before polls open in two weeks’ time.
Standing for Westminster for the fifth time since 2011, he says it is an honour to be selected by Sinn Féin to run for the Westminster seat; something that he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s an absolute privilege and I’m delighted that the party has chosen myself again to go forward to represent the great people of West Belfast because that is nothing but a pleasure,” he said.
There have been small but significant boundary changes to the West Belfast constituency since 2019.
“The entirety of the Shankill is in West Belfast now,” says Paul. “Previously it would have been half prior to the boundary change. And now we have areas such as Lisburn North which is now included in West Belfast. That was my first canvass going up to that particular area in Lisburn North. People were saying what are you doing at our door? They didn’t know that they are part of the West Belfast constituency for Westminster elections, but it was great engagement with people who I was certainly meeting for the first time and I thought the welcome was brilliant on the doorsteps.”
Even considering his large majority last time, as a result of these changes Paul Maskey is warning against voter complacency and says there are no safe seats.
“I think that every single vote counts. And particularly in this election everybody should come out and vote because it’s a difficult time, the boundary has changed and there are going to be a large amount of people away on holiday this time. Even when we are engaging with people on the doorstep some are saying that they won’t be here and I’ll have to get a postal ballot, but not everyone will get around to doing that because the process is awkward enough, so I would urge people to come out and vote, no matter who they are voting for, make sure they use their democratic right.

“Sometimes it’s hard to convince people because they may say, you have a safe seat. I do not have a safe seat and I do not take one vote for granted. I’ve worked hard and I will continue to work hard and I’ll work hard to get as many people out on the 4th of July to vote – and hopefully to vote for myself.
“It is quite clear to me that when you look at what the Tories have been doing here that we do need to send a clear message back to whoever the new British government would be that people in West Belfast need to be counted because we have made our voice counted. We do meet with the government and we do meet with the opposition in Westminster and I do meet with all the parties when I go to Westminster. We’re abstentionist MPs but we have offices in Westminster, we use our offices very well to engage on a daily basis with all parties there including the government to ensure that our voice is heard. We do everything that an MP does apart from fall asleep on the green benches.”
He added: “People will know this about politics, the majority of issues are already sorted out before you go into the chamber. That’s where the deals are done, the deals are done in corridors and in offices as well. There was no vote in that last term where seven MPs from Sinn Féin would have made one difference. But where we did make a difference was outside of the chamber and that was obviously lobbying for our own constituencies but also lobbying for many different issues affecting the island and especially the North of Ireland.”
Looking over his time as MP, Paul says that when he was first elected the unemployment rate in West Belfast was below 16 per cent and is currently below five per cent; a figure which he concedes is still too high but one which he says is moving in the right direction. He adds that the transformation to the main arterial route through the constituency is “second to none”. He points to the new leisure centres, environmental projects, new buildings and new school builds over the last ten years.
“We managed to attract employment opportunities for this part of the city, but also one of the biggest things that has changed is the education attainment rate has gone up and that is because of the schools, alongside the community sector and the West Belfast Partnership Board and ourselves as elected representatives, who are working together like never before. So the education attainment rate is the highest it’s ever been and to me that is a great sign of growth because the outcome of that is more people will go and find employment opportunities but more of our young people are now going to university than ever before from this part of the city and I think that puts us in good stead for the future.”

Paul says he’s continually meeting with community groups and government departments to push for more investment into West Belfast. A key to that investment would be the development of Casement Park and the Euros coming to Andersonstown in four years’ time. He admits he is frustrated with the turn of events in recent months and fears that West Belfast could lose out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“We must remember that there were other political parties from this constituency opposed to Casement Park, but we’re in a better place. I have no doubt that Casement Park will be delivered and built, but whether it’s built in time for the Euros I don’t know but certainly we have already stated quite clearly that as soon as the new British government is elected then we are seeking an urgent meeting, because the Tory government had promised that they would help fund Casement Park to bring it up to the standard that is needed for UEFA. We’re going to hold the British government’s feet to the fire on that particular issue.
“When you see all the new developments all round – when you see the new leisure centre next door to it, Casement Park would definitely be the jewel in the crown, not only of West Belfast, but I believe in the North of Ireland. Once we get Casement Park built in this part of the city I have no doubt that in the future developers and others will come in to invest very, very heavily in West Belfast because that is a game-changer for this city and that is something that we will make sure will be delivered and our party have given that commitment, and it is an Executive commitment and we just need to go full steam ahead to make sure it is delivered and delivered as soon as possible.
“If it is delivered in time for the Euros that puts West Belfast on the map where you are having four or five games which will be beamed out around the world, that’s West Belfast from where we’ve come from to where we are now and to where we are going to in the future. I think that is a powerful opportunity.”