Catherine Seeley is a woman on a mission - to secure a second seat for Sinn Fein in Upper Bann during the upcoming Assembly election.
The 28-year-old teacher has already made history once, becoming Craigavon’s first Sinn Fein Deputy Mayor (and the last person to hold that role before the council was dissolved).
Catherine grew up in Taghnevan with her parents Clare and Sean but moved to Derrymacash before she reached her teens. She has a brother and two sisters, one of them is a teacher as well (the other is a beauty therapist), she’s the second youngest.
On why she entered teaching there was a simple answer - the inspiration of her parents: “When I was growing up my dad was a teacher and my mum was a teacher of adult learners so I suppose looking up to your parents, I admired them I wanted to be like them and that was one of the influences.
“After school dad would have collected us, so I would have got a lift over to Lismore where dad was, with my younger sister. We would have been playing about with the boards, much to the dismay of the cleaners because they had just cleaned the room and here was us wee primary six and seven kids coming in.
“That was an initial influence plus we were in the school environment quite a lot and I loved school, I loved everything about school.
“I didn’t actually enjoy university, I found it very cold, a bit too big and it was only in Belfast. I remember the first night I went down to Queen’s, mum brought me and I rang her crying about an hour later saying ‘I can’t stay here’.
“I really liked the security of the school environment. My careers teacher at the time said ‘Catherine keep your options open’ and I took her advice and did my undergrad in history and politics and then took a year out to work with children with special needs and then applied for my post graduate certificate of Education at Queen’s.
She’s now in her fifth years as a teacher, having started at an integrated school in Omagh. She also paid tribute to Lismore school, which she described as amazing. She came to national attention while at the the Boys’ Model School in Belfast when she came under loyalist threat, moving to St Patrick’s in Bandbridge and latterly St Ronan’s in Lurgan.
Of her start in politics she said: “I would say that from a very early age I was politicised. When I was born in 1987 the Troubles were still going on. I was growing up as the peace was developing but it was never totally peaceful, there was still trouble going on in the background while there were efforts being made to bring us all to peace, I think I grew up in a very politicised house from a strong republican background and in a very strong republican estate, Taghnevan. Politics was always around me and it was always the conversation in the house at dinnertime. The news was always on.
“I joined Sinn Fein when I was 16, around that age. I became involved in the youth side of it. I was party secretary working in the background for a time, then became chair of Upper Bann Sinn Fein. Then it was Johnny’s (McGibbon) decision that he wanted to pursue his Irish language degree and we were looking to co-opt someone and then I got co-opted onto Craigavon Borough Council. If I’m being honest, did I ever see myself becoming a politician or a councillor, deputy Lord mayor, Westminster Candidate, Seanad elections? No, I was quite happy in the background.
“These things happen in politics, the party asks you to do things and make those sacrifices, so here I am.”
Shortly after he co-option her career in teaching and her political career collided in a huge way while she was teaching at the Boys’ Model School in Belfast.
Of her decision to leave the Model she said: “It was just really for fear something might happen and also I was a distraction at an important time for the boys, approaching their GCSEs and A Levels. I was moved to St Patrick’s College in Banbridge, another amazing school. It was a wee school, its numbers were reducing and now they are going up. I’ve also had the pleasure of working in Drumcree College, and absolutely delighted it’s going to remain open.”
Her role at present is mentoring students at St Ronan’s, which she described as slightly different to teaching.
And of working with young people, she said: “Amazing.”
She went on: “They grow up a whole lot quicker now, that’s often not their own fault, it’s circumstances, background, social setting. They are coming into contact with alcohol and drugs much earlier than before. Social media, the media in general and the pressure to look, feel and be a certain way. Young people have it very hard, it’s not easy but they never fail to make you laugh.
“I know it’s cliche to say it’s rewarding but it is rewarding, you actually do make a difference. When you look back on your life, the people you’ll always remember are some of the teachers that you loved, they influenced, they gave you the motivation, the self worth, the self esteem. I really love it.”
She expressed her pride in her nieces Meabh and Caitlin and a nephew Ronan, indeed Caitlin is going to be the Deputy Head Girl at St Ronan’s next year,
She added: “Politics to me isn’t really a career, its just part of me, what it is. There no other career like being a teacher, but it is difficult.”
Of the upcoming election and what the polls might bring Catherine was philosophical: ”It’s in God’s hands. We are doing all we can to win that second seat, it is a long term goal and strategy of the party.
“But there’s no way I’m going to say I’m finished with teaching. No way.”