Above: Chamindra Weerawardhana meeting Anne Dickson MP CBE, Carrick, Northern Ireland, June 2016 (©C.Weerawardhana)
In June 2016, I had the good fortune of meeting Anne Laetitia Dickson MP CBE, the first woman to lead a political party in Northern Ireland (and the second in the island of Ireland). Starting her career in active politics as the chair of the Carrick Party Executive of the Unionist Party, Anne was elected to the Newtownabbey Urban District Council in 1965, and to Stormont at the infamous 1969 Crossroads election, polling 9,529 preferential votes. Anne was the only woman to be elected to the last Stormont parliament before Direct Rule was declared in 1972 (from 1969 to 1972). At the Carrick Executive of the UUP (Anne’s home constituency), she would strongly articulate a discourse of inclusion, often critical of the discriminatory policies of the government run by her own party. Being female and a no-nonsense critical voice, Anne was popular among party members, and her positions were indeed a breath of fresh air to a party with an unmistakably patriarchal and conservative stamp. Despite being appreciated by party members, Anne’s presence in the political scene was anathema to many cis male politicians in the Unionist Party, especially those who upheld a hardline brand of unionism.
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