Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah, whose family comes from Nigeria and Kildare met the Irish World’s Simone Rodolphi
Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, was among the first guests to be invited to the first-ever Global Irish Parliamentarians’ Forum last December.
Although perhaps not so well-known outside Westminster and her constituency, she was, as Shadow Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, the face of the Labour Party at the huge rally to save this country’s libraries on Tuesday.
The event was scheduled to be as near to last Saturday’s National Libraries Day and catch MPs returning to the Commons for the week.
Speaking at that event she declared: “Libraries have an important future in our communities as an integral part of the social and cultural life of this country. They are vital public spaces where people can access books, the internet and other shared resources in a safe space.
“People up and down the country today will be worrying whether their local library will be open next year because of this Tory Government’s cuts to local councils.
“(The people) gathered outside Parliament on Tuesday, were there in anger over what this Government has allowed to happen to our libraries rather than as a celebration of books and reading.”
As part of the her visit to Dublin in December she got to speak in the Dáil chamber, something which made her proud but also sad that her very Irish mum was not alive to see it. Her mother was the daughter of a Kildare sheet metal worker who worked in the Tyneside shipyards in the 1930s.
“Having been brought up by a Geordie Irish mum the Irish influence was always very strong. She cooked Irish food with a Geordie and African fusion. It had a big influence on who I am.”
Chi’s Irish roots are complemented by her father’s Nigerian ancestry. He came to the UK as medical student. On top of that Chi is, herself, a proud Geordie. She has a close connection to the Tyneside Irish Centre where she celebrated her election as MP and officially opened the 2015 Tyneside Irish Festival.
There is a photo of Chi, as the local MP, standing under a photograph her Irish grandmother hanging on a wall in the Tyneside Irish Centre. It speaks volumes.
In Newcastle, together with her diverse constituents, she encourages and facilitates shared experiences from St Patrick’s Day via Eid to celebrating St George’s Day at the Victoria. She feels strongly that The connection between racism and celebrating culture needs to be broken.”
Her 20 year career in engineering stands her in good stead as Labour’s Digital Economy spokesperson. She sees her move into politics as an extension of her work as engineer.
Rather than developing that superfast broadband she is still capable of designing with the right fibres and right dimensioning for the benefit of only the few people who would be able to afford to use it, she is determined to develop and shape – with expertise and passion – the political framework as an “engine of progress” to allow digital technology to have a positive impact on all. Good digital policy will also help make things work for small business.
In addition, Chi explains: “Labour is committed to policies that will support small business in competing with larger corporations more effectively than current government policy allows.”
Small businesses should, she says, be able to compete on a level playing field in bidding for public contracts thus bringing long term value to local communities across the UK instead of making choices based on short-term costs. She says Labour will help small business break into new markets and use regional banks to support local economies.
Chi’s passion for the North East combined with her engineering expertise, her diverse cultural background and her sheer energy (on her way from the London train to meeting me she’d already managed to fit in another appointment before dashing off to the next, barely standing still long enough for a quick photo) suggest a rare combination of talents and in a person with a rare down to earth and helpful manner.
Asked about the unseemly infighting and very public spats over Labour’s recent reshuffle she says simply: “We have a code of conduct. We must be more respectful how we talk about other members within the party.” She then immediately went on to tell me more about her trip to Ireland.
“Within half an hour of arriving”, she said, in her maternal ancestors’ hometown, Wolfhill Co.Kildare, her cousins had been found and brought to meet her.
She is looking forward to her next journey to Ireland in the hope it will coincide with some centenary celebrations.
She’s likely to join in with one or other celebration at the Tyneside Irish Centre where the Tyneside Irish Cultural Society, amongst other things, has organised its Road to the Rising lecture series.