Veteran SDLP councillor Sharon Haughey-Grimley is saying goodbye to the council chamber as she steps out of the political limelight to focus on her young family.
But in her parting address in the Craigavon Civic Centre on Monday night, the former Armagh Lord Mayor, pledged her full support for Craigavon Breast Clinic and urged councillors from all parties to unite around such an important issue.
The councillor spoke from the heart, and on the experience of her mother, who was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in Craigavon.
“As you are all aware, [Monday night] is my final time to speak in the chamber before I take a break from elected politics,” she said.
“Never did I imagine in my 14 years as a councillor that I would be speaking on a proposal to close a much needed and vital service for our community.
“It is beyond comprehension that a proposal has been published to close Craigavon Breast Clinic.”
She added: “The Clinic has an outstanding reputation, exceeding all its targets and serving a large community stretching across counties Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh and Down.
“To close this clinic would be absolutely dreadful for this large community, many of whom live in isolated rural areas.
“I, like many women, and indeed men, have attended the assessment unit at Craigavon. It can be a very anxious and worrying time. And very often women will try to slip away from their work, their family, their daily lives to get assessed.
“The thought of having long distances to travel for that assessment will put undue pressure on women already facing a traumatic situation.
“This proposal could literally cost lives, at a time when awareness of cancer symptoms and the importance of early diagnosis is at an all-time high, it does not make sense to make assessment more difficult. It should be as accessible as possible.
“I know personally of the fantastic work of all the staff at the Craigavon Breast Clinic. Their commitment and attention to care and detail is second to none.
“Twenty-one years ago, while I was dipping my feet into the world of politics my mummy was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Her diagnosis was devastating but the care and attention of firstly her GP Dr Richard Dorman and then the staff in Craigavon and Belvoir Park Hospital was incredible.
“It’s 21 years since my mummy was diagnosed and treated for stage 3 breast cancer; on Sunday she completed the Great Ireland Run in Dublin.
“She is one of the many inspirational stories which give hope to others, her story is testimony to the care and treatment by all those who cared for her.
“The entire community are grateful for the professionalism and dedication of the staff at Craigavon Breast Clinic, and that has been highlighted again and again throughout this campaign. We all owe them great gratitude. The clinic is exceeding all its targets and continues to do an excellent job.
“Cancer does not discriminate, it’s an issue we can all unite on and work together to do everything in our power to make sure no civil servant nor no Secretary of State closes this essential service.
“The people of this borough and further, need this clinic – standing together shoulder to shoulder to oppose this proposal will be the strongest voice for the entire community.”
In a parting plea to all political parties in the council chamber, councillor Sharon Haughey-Grimley, who has always worked hard to build on peace and reconciliation, urged politicians to focus on issues that matter most to all in society.
She said: “Members, I’ve spoken in this chamber before about focusing on the issues that unite us and this is one of those issues.
“If I can leave any parting wisdom or plea I would urge each of you, and each party to work together on issues that affect us all.
“Show leadership to help build reconciliation among our communities, be brave to learn about other cultures and beliefs. Don’t ever think someone else’s strongly held views are a threat to what makes you, you.
“This chamber can be an example of two traditions, and more, working together to build a better place for everyone.
“There are issues that we will never agree on, accept that and build on the things that matter to everyone.
“The Good Friday Agreement has shown that our people desperately want to live and work in a peaceful and reconciled society. Play your part in delivering that.
“Tonight is a good start, by coming together we can be the strongest voice for the entire community, fighting to save this essential breast clinic, fighting as one for the whole community.
“I pledge my full support to the Knitted Knockers Campaign to save Craigavon Breast Clinic.”
Cllr Sharon Haughey-Grimley is due to officially step down on May 2 following 14 years as a public representative.
The young mother of three has held various leadership roles on council including Chair of Economic Development and Regeneration and notably in 2012/13 she was Lord Mayor of Armagh City and District.
She first got involved in politics back in 1998 after introducing President Bill Clinton on the Mall in Armagh.
Following a meeting John Hume in Newry she joined the SDLP.
In 2005 she followed in the footsteps of Seamus Mallon and the late Tom Cavanan in being elected as the sole nationalist councillor for Cusher.
During her 14-year term, she worked hard for all sides of the community and became well known as a hard-working and trusted councillor.
Last year she announced that she was to take a break from politics to focus on raising her young family.
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