Former Ulster Unionist Assembly member Danny Kennedy has discussed the challenges of having to ‘sign on’ for the first time in his life, having lost his seat in the March election.
Since mid-July Mr Kennedy has become a regular visitor to Newry Jobs and Benefits Office – an establishment he once visited as employment and learning minister.
He said: “You can never take anything for granted in politics. I’ve said many times that when you win you find out about other people and when you lose you find out about yourself.
“I’m not looking for sympathy – the reason I have registered for Jobseeker’s Allowance is simply that I am seeking a job. I want to be employed again and it is a challenge given my age and background.
“Money is not the issue. The issue is being unemployed and wanting to be employed.
“The issue is how a politician reinvents themselves to be attractive within the job market.
“Signing on for Jobseeker’s is something that a great many people have had to do, for a lot longer than I’ve been doing it. That’s why I say it hasn’t been a chastening experience.”
The 58-year-old Bessbrook man said he left school with few qualifications and was fortunate to have been continuously employed for 39 years – firstly with BT and then as a politician with the Ulster Unionist Party.
“I was always interested in politics from my youth, I just wanted to pursue that as a potential career and I was very blessed and fortunate to be able to do that.
“In 20 years with BT and a further 19 as a full-time politician I’ve got experience but employers also want academic qualifications.
“My age is also a factor so finding employment has been a challenge, but I will continue to actively pursue employment as is the requirement of Jobseeker’s. That’s what I’m trying to do. A job is what I want and is the reason I registered.”
He admitted that going from full-time, high-profile employment to claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance was “quite a culture shock” but said he was enjoying some benefits of not working.
“The paradox with it is I’ve been able to spend more time with my family and being put to work as a babysitter for my grandchildren has been enormously enjoyable,” he said.
“When you’re a politician sacrifices need to be made and family invariably have to make those, that goes for anyone in public life.”
Mr Kennedy confirmed he had received no job offers as yet and had not decided whether he would like to return to politics in the future.
He lost his Newry and Armagh Assembly seat during what was seen as a divisive election campaign.
Sinn Fein’s Cathal Boylan, Megan Fearon and Conor Murphy dominated the constituency, with the SDLP’s Justin McNulty also elected.
The DUP’s William Irwin was the only unionist to be elected and he blamed then UUP leader Mike Nesbitt for Mr Kennedy’s loss.
Mr Kennedy had been an MLA since 1998 and had previously held positions of minister for the Department of Employment and Learning and more recently the Department for Regional Development.