In the news: Carmel Hanna

December 21, 2001

This week's appointment of Carmel Hanna as employment and learning minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly came as a bit of a surprise. Her name had hardly featured in the speculation surrounding who would succeed Sean Farren, who has become finance minister.

Ms Hanna is viewed as a tenacious politician with a shrewd eye for detail, but her manner is quiet, friendly and no-nonsense. She was an activist in the civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland from the early 1970s, before joining Gerry Fitt's Social Democratic and Labour Party in 1972.

Ms Hanna has had no formal further or higher education. She trained as a staff nurse at the Belfast City Hospital and worked in a so-called frontline hospital at the height of the Troubles, seeing at first hand the physical effects of the conflict. It was an experience that turned her ever more towards politics - she says that it strengthened her belief that political change by peaceful means was essential.

A mother of four, she has worked as a midwife and in social services, assessing care for the elderly. She lived in the United States for a time before her formal entry into politics as a councillor just five years ago. She was elected to the assembly in the election after the Good Friday Agreement.

Her areas of political interest include third-world debt, health and the environment. She chairs the assembly all-party committee on international development. Her personal interests include aromatherapy, reflexology, gardening and cooking.

In recent times, Mrs Hanna's south Belfast home has been attacked repeatedly. In separate incidents within days of each other last year, Loyalists fired ball bearings through a window of the house and through a side window of her car. The attacks came after she had spoken out against the intimidation of Catholics in the area.


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