Ruth Patterson opens up on her depression and being expelled from the DUP

Ruth Patterson at home
Ruth Patterson at home
  • She’s a poetry-loving granny and something of a political livewire who has been vilified for some of her more questionable antics, but who is the real Ruth Patterson?

In 2013 after she was arrested for a ‘‘grossly offensive communication’’ when she responded to a Facebook post about an imagined attack on a republican parade, Ruth Patterson fell into a depression so deep and soul-sapping, she felt suicidal.

In 2013 after she was arrested for a ‘‘grossly offensive communication’’ when she responded to a Facebook post about an imagined attack on a republican parade, Ruth Patterson fell into a depression so deep and soul-sapping, she felt suicidal.

The charges were withdrawn after she accepted an informal warning from police, but the outspoken and controversial former DUP councillor and deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast says candidly: ‘‘There were days I didn’t get out of bed. It was terrible. I thought life wasn’t worth living. I was panic-stricken.’’

Ruth, 60, is no stranger to mental health problems having suffered from postnatal depression following the birth of her third child.

‘‘After I was arrested I went to the doctor because I was suicidal. It was horrific.’’

She was prescribed medication, which she still takes, adding: ‘‘Thank the Lord the medication has seen me through and has really helped me. But I am fully aware of this ghost that lurks in the background, that can rear it’s ugly head at the most unexpected of times and can just leave you feeling bereft, soulless; I was lost for a very long time at times.’’

It’s no surprise then that health (she’s a former nurse) and mental health issues, in particular, are close to her heart and ones she will be campaigning on as an independent unionist in the run up to the May Assembly elections.

Education, too, is a cause, this former head girl, feels passionately about.

‘‘We want to redress the disconnect between university, higher education and working class unionism. We need to encourage our young people to be the very best that they can be at every level - from primary school up.’’

She will also be advocating a reformed civic forum, with powers similar to a scrutiny committee.

‘‘The fundamental structures of Stormont must change to a truly democratic system of government, but in the absence of that I feel the next best option is adding more accountability. Whenever a country can hold its country to account, the country flourishes.’’

An issue she is unequivocal on is Northern Ireland opening its doors to refugees.

‘‘Whether we like it or not, refugees bring baggage with them.

‘‘You only have to look at Sweden, Denmark and Germany to look at the fallout from all of that.

‘‘Whilst it is our duty to help, I think bringing them into a country where they have no allegiance, where the culture is alien to them, where standards and ethics are very different to what they have been used to, it’s difficult.’’

Ruth Patterson’s public persona is of a militant loyalist, a hardcore, intransigent flag protester, of someone who often acts before she thinks, but chatting in the living room of her cosy east Belfast home, she’s warm, hospitable, has an infectious laugh and, I sense, a wicked sense of humour once she gets going.

Her dream dinner party guests would include Joan Rivers, ‘to keep us in craic’, her campaign manager and loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson for ‘‘his youth and his principles’’, drag queen Titti Von Tramp and actor Daniel Craig, ‘‘purely for eye candy.’’

Donald Trump would also be there.

‘‘He may well be the future president of the USA and I would back him. Donald Trump is like me, he says it like it is and that is what I like, no back doors, no hidden agendas,’’ she says.

During our interview Paisley (her doted upon Yorkshire Terrier) sits curled in my lap. She’s divorced, her four children grown-up, so she got Paisley, who was born on July 12, for company. ‘‘He’s a wee honeypups,’’ she says tickling his belly.

She’s even penned a little ode to him: ‘My little man’s the one true love of my life/Not one word of cheek, trouble or strife/Together forever as our lives hurry by/ The bestest of friends my Paisley and I.

Writing poetry is her release valve: ‘‘You can put a lot of thought down on paper, without it being aggressive or maybe upsetting anybody,’’ she smiles.

She’s describes herself as ‘‘principled, loyal and bubbly’’ and is fiercely proud of her six grandchildren, showing me photos, and of her mother who recently turned 92.

Her loyalty to the union is binary and unshakeable, as is her devotion to the Queen, whom she met when she visited Belfast City Hall in 2014.

‘‘I was that in awe of her, instead of calling her Your Majesty, I called her Mam,’’ she chuckles.

‘‘It’s like meeting a movie star, It was one of the best days of my life.’’

Ruth Patterson grew up in Dungannon, Co Tyrone in a household that ‘‘feared God and honoured the Queen, and celebrated the Twelfth of July’’.

She has a twin sister, Shirley, but says they are as ‘‘different as day and night’’ in their outlook.

‘‘Shirley would be more reserved whereas I’m just out there, ‘‘she laughs. ‘‘I’m just in your face.’’

She loved the Twelfth of July and was in the Sergeant White Memorial Flute Band with her father, who played the big drum. Her first instrument was the cymbals, she then progressed to the flute.

‘‘I was very close to my daddy - and I always wanted to play in the band alongside him.’’

Ruth was 11 or 12 when the Troubles kicked off.

‘‘One of the first civil rights marches was from Coalisland to Dungannon. I vividly remember the march going up past our house and us hiding because we were so frightened of it all - the bin lids on the ground, the rattling and the shouting and the jeering.’’

The situation perplexed the young Ruth, because she says: ‘‘We were never brought up with the attitude that there’s them and us.

‘‘Two of our very best friends, Anne and Roisin, were Catholics and we loved them to bits. It was only when the Troubles started that things began to change - Shirley and I went down one afternoon to call for Anne and Roisin. We asked them if they were coming out to play and they said ‘No, we not allowed to play with you anymore’.

‘‘We were left wondering what we had done - I was heartbroken because I had lost my friends.’’

Her family belonged to the Methodist Church in Dungannon, later her parents went on to co-found the Free Presbyterian Church in the town, and they were also founders of the DUP there.

However, the strictures of formal church-going didn’t sit well with the young Ruth.

‘‘I went to Sunday School, was a member of the Girls’ Brigade and we went to the Gospel Hall Sunday School in the afternoon and then went back to church at night.

‘‘I liked church, but it seemed to be on Sunday you spent your day there. Maybe I was just a bit of a rebel - I just wanted to go home and do my own thing.

‘‘I love the Lord immensely, but I don’t necessarily believe that you have to go to church to believe in God and to worship God and to call on God in your hour of need. God’s everywhere, he’s an all-seeing, all-loving God and that’s what’s important to me.’’

During the height of the Troubles, Ruth worked as a nurse for six years at the RVH.

‘‘It was surreal sometimes and some of things you saw were just shocking and they stayed with you.

‘‘When I was in casualty there had been a big explosion on the Falls Road - a solider was badly injured. I picked up his boot and his foot was still in it.

‘‘You were there to do a job, to save a life, and it was regardless of whose that life was - it didn’t matter whether it was a British soldier or a provisional IRA man or a loyalist paramilitary.’’

Despite the anxieties of her parents, she joined the UDR during the Troubles and was in the organisation for three years.

‘‘Loyalty and service are two things that are very important to me. There’s no disrespect for anybody else, but loyalty to Queen and country is paramount.

‘‘I loved the UDR, I loved the discipline, I loved the fact that I was serving my country - a country that I loved and wanted to protect it. I loved the uniform, the marching, the parading.’’

Unlike other members of her former party, Ruth would be seen as more progressive - especially on the issue of homosexuality.

‘‘If two people find comfort and love with each other, then who am I to put a wedge between that. I am a great believer in living and let live.’’