LESS than a week after being appointed the stand-in Deputy First minister of Northern Ireland, John O’Dowd was back in what he called his “old stomping ground” in Laurencetown for a cup of coffee and a chat with some of his former neighbours.
The Sinn Fein man, who was born and brought up in Tullylish, attended the Chest, Heart and Stroke Coffee morning at the local community centre last Friday, rounding off what he admitted had been a busy week.
Remaining in his post as Education Minister, Mr O’Dowd will act as the temporary political partner for Peter Robinson while Martin McGuinness makes a bid to become President of Ireland.
And many of the men and women at the coffee morning were more than keen to meet and have their pictures taken with their “local boy done good”. He told the Leader, “I have to say I’ve been very humbled. People have taken great pride in a local doing well - they see it as one of their own doing well. There’s a certain amount of pride in that, you always like to reflect well on your own area.”
And the former chef, who worked in Halls Mill for three years, said that despite holding two ministerial posts and finding his workload increase dramatically he was keen to get back to Laurencetown.
“I like to get back to Laurencetown,” he said. “I like to come back here as regularly as I can and just offer my support.”
The Minister said he was impressed by the numbers who attended the coffee morning - which was held to raise awareness of causes and effects of chest, heart and stroke problems.
“It’s something that affects every family,” he said. “I know people in my wider family circle who have experienced heart attacks, strokes and all the associated problems that go with that so I am supportive of the charity.
“The people here today are really impressed by the number of people who have attended this event today and I think they really have managed to reach out into the rural community. So I think projects like this are part and parcel of promoting a healthier society. I am fortunate enough to have come through a career which allows me to appreciate and vary my diet to such a degree that I eat healthily, or at least I think I do!”
Refusing to state whether he would take the top post permanently should Martin McGuinness become President of Ireland, Mr O’Dowd said he has many able colleagues.
“I haven’t even thought that far ahead,” he said. “The party will make that decision in the future, my focus is on the next six weeks, making sure it’s business as usual in both departments and whatever happens after that happens.”