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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Moore (Local Democracy Reporter)

Youth can move Causeway Coast & Glens Council forward – Ald Joan Baird reflects

Woman smiling standing in front of causeway coast and glens borough council headquarters

Youth can continue to move Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council forward, according to retiring Glens UUP Alderman Joan Baird.


Ald Baird has been on the council for 12 years, since 2011, but decided not to stand for re-election. 


“I think you need new blood,” she says. “I could nearly have done another term but I thought no, it’s better to try and find somebody younger to come in and get going and hopefully that will keep things pushing forward.”



First elected onto Moyle District Council, Ald Baird was then re-elected to the new Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council which combined four local authorities. She subsequently won a third term for Causeway Coast and Glens, served as mayor from 2017 to 2018 and chaired the Planning Committee from 2021 to 2022.


Looking back, Ald Baird credits the insight she had from her late husband’s time as a Banbridge councillor as a helpful starting point for her own time on council.


“I was fortunate,” she says. “I knew what was going on and that maybe helped me at the start. But I think it’s very hard for people coming in cold. 



“There’s a lot going on and it’s very difficult to make your mark and be influential. I’ve always tried to speak in the debates and so on. I even got heckled in the chamber recently. I don’t mind any of that. I always think if somebody’s heckling, then they’re listening.”


Ald Baird identifies a number of projects as key achievements from her work over the past 12 years.


Glenariff Community Centre was her “first big challenge”. Planning permission for the project was granted in March 2014 and key funding of £180,000 secured from the council. 



Also around 2014, Dalriada Hospital was “under immense threat” of closure, which was stopped in its tracks by a community campaign. “We did our best and won our case to keep Dalriada going,” Ald Baird says. “That was very good. It has helped greatly especially during Covid. Going forward I don’t know if it can be sustained but it’s done seven or eight more years.”


More recently, funding has been secured for a new leisure centre in Ballycastle and a £70m shared campus, also in Ballycastle. Ald Baird says the campus will promote “a culture of understanding and respect for each tradition”, with education facilities shared between Ballycastle High School and Cross and Passion College.


Plans for Mosside Village Community Centre have also been approved recently, along with a new playpark at Armoy.



Ald Baird adds: “I also fought hard for Lime Park at Armoy. The council were pushing hard to sell it but it’s a great facility for the village and used for a parkrun, football and Causeway Giants use it for training. 


“For young people it’s great or for a quiet walk in the countryside. The lease is being renewed probably only for another six months or so but I hope when I leave council that continues. That’s been one of my big wins.”


One challenge of Ald Baird’s time has been getting things through council. “It’s such a big council and it’s difficult for some councillors to relate to your area,” she says. “If you have issues you want to get across you have to work a lot harder than in the past in the debates in the chamber. It’s sometimes very tough and frustrating.


“There’s so much information coming through from the council itself – pages of reports – and it’s difficult to keep on top of that at all times and you really do have to do that as well as attend the meetings.”



The financial position of the council has also posed challenges. Causeway Coast and Glens took over four legacy councils, while most other councils in Northern Ireland took over three.


“All of those councils had debt so we’ve started off with a page of debt,” Ald Baird explains. “When you’ve got that, it does restrict other things you’re going to do. But of course all government bodies run on a deficit budget. There aren’t pots of money sitting anywhere.”


Key concerns for constituents at the moment are the cost of living crisis and the current political situation in Northern Ireland.


Ald Baird says: “People are very angry about Stormont not working. My party want to be in there. I believe we should be in there arguing your case. It’s no good being outside, you’re not going to have input into final solutions.”



Looking ahead, Ald Baird hopes to maintain her interest in the environment and community issues. She has just finished planting 9,000 trees in conjunction with The Woodland Trust, in memory of her husband.


“I’m quite interested in environmental issues,” she says. “I haven’t very much farm left – a very small holding now – but I’m still interested in agriculture and that interest and in the environment in particular will hopefully continue.”


Despite stepping down, Ald Baird has also promised some of the local community associations that she will stay on as a member to provide support. She is heavily invested in the Glens, where she lives, and stresses the importance of its “cross community” culture continuing.


“It’s trying to engage young people and make them see there is a better way and a better future,” she says. “I hope in politics and society we don’t keep making the same mistakes.


“Working together is much more beneficial. A big team working together is better than getting into silly arguments and wasting time and effort instead of sticking to what needs to be done in the borough.”


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