Transformative Leadership Programme Participant Story – Mal O’Hara, Green Party, North Belfast TLP, Spring 2021

Mal did the TLP in Spring 2021 alongside participants from the Bytes Project, Concerned Residents of Upper Ardoyne, Sinn Fein, Pintsized Productions, BCC, Start 360, PSNI, Cavehill Community Choir, LOCA, Bunscoil and Naíscoil Bheann Mhadigan.

“The course is an opportunity to reconnect with real voices in your community.”

Introduction and Motivation

  1. What motivated you to sign up to this particular programme?

I have always been a supporter of programmes that bring people together and that connect people to decision makers. I wanted to support Belfast City Council and NICVA to build good relations and consolidate better community identity through this EU funded programme. Plus, some of the modules sold it to me. Also being online made it easier at the moment – I could block book those days to do the course. And on a political level, I wanted to connect with people in the community who were doing the course.

Experience and Learning

  1. What topics stood out for you?

Reflecting on leadership styles was really useful for me – I have done it a couple of times but it has been a while, and I’m now reflecting on it in a different position as party group leader. My own style is collective but at times I have had to make decisions. I liked the modules around conflict and change too, especially the iceberg model – what we see on the surface versus the more systemic issues. I consider myself radical – not extreme – but interested in addressing root causes and tackling issues systemically.

  1. What are you likely to ‘take back’ to your life/work in the community?

I would take back something about power and the dynamics of power. Being an elected rep you can get sucked into this and lose connection with the base and the importance of authentically engaging with people and listening and acting on their needs – the course reaffirmed that for me - it has pulled me back to my roots.


  1. Is there anything you could or would do now that you wouldn’t have felt able to do before?

I think it has encouraged me in two ways – firstly in my engagement with the business community who might not have been such a big focus for me – it’s made me think, how can I build relationships with them – so important as they provide local jobs, many of which can be part-time, for women etc. And also, it has encouraged me to try to build relations with PUL communities – it gave me more confidence to engage. Hearing the issues directly from local people gives you a better understanding, you feel more empowered to listed to them from an authentic standpoint.  

  1. Are there people/agencies you feel able to talk to and work with now that you weren’t before?

Yes – definitely, this would include LOCA – I already had a relationship with Janice there, but the course put me in touch with other people involved. Also, Paul Carlin from the local business community, and Ronnie Black from Upper Ardoyne. And I now have a better relationship with the other political rep who was on the course (Conor Maskey).

  1. What difference will this make to how you engage in your interface area?

I am definitely more confident and empowered to engage with communities as a result of the course – but also it has made me reflect on how I do some things. I am a rep for Castle and also North Belfast rep for the party so it has given a better understanding of those issues. After the interface-based trouble last week first thing I did was reach out to Sarah at LOCA.

  1. What difference will the course make to the interface area overall?

It’s a challenge to attribute change to one project but it has played its part. One of my critiques of our peace process is our failure to build peace. We need to be more systemic in housing and education, but people talking about tough issues in a safe environment like the course is very helpful and gives people a more realistic picture of each other. We have the same issues and there is a real power in people knowing the issues are the same: housing, poverty, unemployment, anti-social behaviour, crime. It’s powerful for people to have this recognition – a real opportunity to build on peace.


  1. Which issues in particular do you think you might get more involved in?

It has presented a good challenge to me – there can be a perception of greens that it is a middle class hippy movement – the challenge is for us to make the case that this is about jobs, warm homes, etc. I need to pitch an environmental message which gets this across – if we do the work to address the climate crisis, you won’t have damp houses, you will have jobs etc. Those are easy visions to unite communities around.


  1. To what extent do you think these changes would have occurred in the absence of this course?

It wouldn’t have happened without the course, or it would have happened at a more incremental pace that might have taken years – instead it happened over 6 weeks – it builds confidence and you can act on it quickly. I have been hawking the course - it is an opportunity to reconnect with real voices in your community.

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