New MLA who is more frustrated than most at our political limbo

John Stewart made it to Stormont, but the brakes have been put on the new MLAs political journey
John Stewart made it to Stormont, but the brakes have been put on the new MLAs political journey

As an A-level politics student, John Stewart fondly recalls a visit to Stormont when he sat in the chamber and vowed he would be back.

Now an elected MLA for the first time, he is caught in limbo, frustrated that he cannot return to the seat he sat on as a 17-year-old.

John (third from left in the front row) has been with Carrick Cricket Club since he was eight

John (third from left in the front row) has been with Carrick Cricket Club since he was eight

“To say I’m champing at the bit would be a massive understatement,” said the UUP man.

“The excitement and pride of getting elected has almost evaporated now that we have entered a political vacuum.

“I share the public’s frustration. Our country needs a functioning government, we cannot go on in this climate of uncertainty. The most essential of public services and the most vulnerable in society will be worst affected.”

John’s multitude of involvements has led to him being branded by many who know him as a ‘normal’ MLA.

John is an avid Northern Ireland fan having visited 22 different countries with the GAWA

John is an avid Northern Ireland fan having visited 22 different countries with the GAWA

He has been playing cricket for Carrick since he was eight-years-old. He has gone on to captain the second eleven and also play for the firsts in the premier league.

John is also an avid Northern Ireland fan having visited 22 different countries with the GAWA.

He said: “My lucky top is the 1991 away one, the horrible one, as worn by Iain Dowie.”

He added: “My dad always said I was a product of passion from Gerry Armstrong’s goal against Spain in 1982. It was always guarranteed I was going to be a Northern Ireland fan.”

John follows the fortunes of Carrick Rangers

John follows the fortunes of Carrick Rangers

John also follows the fortunes of Carrick Rangers though he has not been able to see them as much as he would like due to commitments as a trooper in the North Irish Horse and work with the family business.

He said: “When I was at uni I toyed with the idea of joining the Army. I went through all the processes, but decided against it and regretted it.”

John spent some time with the family business, Robinsons of Carrick, Ireland’s oldest surviving shoemakers, famous for its Irish brogues.

He helped the company develop its online offering and they now export to 85 countries around the world.

A passionate military historian, John has written a book which profiles all 1,278 men from Carrickfergus, Whitehead and Greenisland who served in the First World War. He spent six years researching it, with all money going to Poppy Appeal.

A passionate military historian, John has written a book which profiles all 1,278 men from Carrickfergus, Whitehead and Greenisland who served in the First World War. He spent six years researching it, with all money going to Poppy Appeal.

It was through the business world he got involved in politics.

“I felt there was a real need for people who had a passion for the area to get involved at council level,” he said.

In 2011 John scraped onto Carrick Council narrowly securing the last seat. Three years later he topped the poll.

He ran for the Assembly in May 2016 and after narrowly missing out, he benefited from March’s snap election to take a seat for the UUP in East Antrim.

It marked his first visit to Stormont’s chamber since 2000.

He recalled: “I remember saying to my teacher, Miss McKinley, who is still politics teacher at Carrick Grammar, ‘I think I’d love to work here one day, it looks like a great place’.

John is a trooper in the North Irish Horse

John is a trooper in the North Irish Horse

He also wants to prove to people that politicians are not “all the same”.

He said: “I don’t come from a political background. My dad was an RUC officer. He tried to stay away from politics given the environment in which he found himself in.

“I’m just a normal guy who enjoys normal things. I love sport, love music, I ran a pub for a couple of years. I’d dabbled a bit in politics but it wasn’t until 2008 that I joined the UUP.”

He added: “Quite often you hear, ‘I’m not voting for any of them, they’re all the same’.

“There needs to be someone challenging that to say actually if everyone’s the same nothing is ever going to change. I am normal and I can call on my experiences.”

A passionate military historian, John has written a book which profiles all 1,278 men from Carrickfergus, Whitehead and Greenisland who served in the First World War. He spent six years researching it, with all money going to Poppy Appeal.

John is married to Deborah and together they have a three-year-old son – Cohen – named after his favourite musician. His second child is due in the next few days.