Margaret Tinsley knows she has quite a job ahead to remain a local councillor – the effusive mother-of-two was co-opted to Craigavon at the turn of the year to replace the legendary Woolsey Smith (DUP), who had represented the central area faithfully and well for so many years.
Woolsey retired, not relishing the prospect of the new ABC (Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon) Council for which the election is in May. And Margaret – as the new kid on the block – would have made it comfortably under the old set-up.
But there will be changes. Only five, instead of the erstwhile seven, will be chosen in central for the new set-up, where 40 will represent the sprawling ABC council area. And a large part of Killicomaine will be lopped off central for the new Portadown ward.
“I really hope I make it,” said Margaret, who has already done an intelligent assessment of the new wards. “There will be two unionist seats and two nationalist seats in central, and the fifth will be the imponderable. I’ll be working hard to take that one, provided I’m selected, of course.” It’s likely that Robert Smith (DUP) and Kenneth Twyble (UUP) will take the unionists seats, with SDLP and SF still to show their hand.
Still, Margaret isn’t what you’d call ‘a political animal’. Like her predecessor Woolsey, her main plank is to serve the community. As an elder in Margaret’s church, Bethany Free Presbyterian, he backed her all the way and was delighted that his protégé filled her seat.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of council work, so far,” she said. “I’ve already spoken to many farmers in the area, hearing their problems, and listened to elderly people worried about crime.”
She’s been an independent member of Craigavon District Policing Partnership for nine years, and her enthusiasm for her new role is infectious.
She has been a long-standing member of DUP. And although Portadown born-and-bred, she had been Mayoress of Lisburn. Her husband James is an ex-Mayor of the fledgling city, and she enjoyed that year of office by his side – he works in Health Minister Edwin Poots’ constituency office.
Margaret is the daughter of well-known Portadown couple Tom and Mildred Preston, and many will know Tom as an ex-Portadown cricketer. Her mum’s maiden name was McConnell, daughter of the famed summer league referee Raymond McConnell.
All that sporting activity took place in Portadown People’s Park and it would really please Margaret – who started her life in Park Road – to return to those shared space days, to use the modern idiom.
The Preston family later moved to Killicomaine Grove and Kernan Grove, and Margaret now lives with her family in Ballinacorr Meadows, deep in ‘central’ country. They have two children James Jr (10) and Anna (9).
Margaret, in line with party policy - “and for deep personal reasons” – wants to see the Dickson Plan for Education retained. She went through it via Killicomaine JHS and Craigavon Senior High School (then Portadown College of FE) and enhanced her education at ‘Night Tech’ for qualifications in personnel management and food technology.
“I worked in those roles for Moy Park for 20 years,” she recalled. But when the family came along, she opted to be a full-time mum, looking after the children and her parents.
“But I needed more to keep my brain active, and this council work is ideal,” she said. “I’m so keen to make it at the election, but it’s in the hands of the people. I’m so enthusiastic to use it as a community role.
“But it’s one step at a time. Hopefully, my party will select me, and then it’s canvass time!”