Newtownabbey’s youngest ever councillor, Phillip Brett, says he’s thoroughly enjoyed his first six months as a public representative.
The DUP man was co-opted onto the council last year after his party colleague, Paula Bradley gave up her set in the Antrim Line DEA to concentrate on her role as an MLA.
The 22-year-old was raised in Glengormley, just off the Hightown Road. He still lives in the area and he says he’s proud to be representing the people of his home town.
“Some people might think I’m a bit young, but I think I have some good experience,” he told the Times this week.
Reflecting on his first foray into council life, he said: “It’s been an enjoyable six months so far. It’s been nice to be able to represent the area I grew up in and tackle issues that had been ignored by certain parties. We’ve had some good victories already and I’m looking forward to an election campaign.”
Cllr Brett says one of main issues for the new Antrim-Newtownabbey Council will be working to keep rates as low as possible.
“Antrim’s rates are much higher than Newtownabbey’s and since my time on the council one of my main issues was lowering of the rates. Only a few months ago council officers had indicated that they were looking at a rates increase of around four per cent, so we’ve met with the chief executive and directors to look at their plans for the next financial year and highlighted wastage within departments. So after three months we are now down to 0.99 per cent. Hopefully in the next few months, with a bit more work, we will be able to bring it down even closer to a zero per cent increase.”
Looking back at how he got into politics, Cllr Brett puts his keen interest in the subject down to his upbringing.
“From a young age my family were quite involved in politics and always interested in current affairs,” he explained. “I was brought up by my great aunt when my mum and dad were at work and she was a passionate Paisleyite, so I was brought up in an environment where whenever Dr Paisley would come on the TV she would encourage us to watch it.”
In July 2001, Phillip’s 18-year-old brother, Gavin was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries. The tragic event had a huge impact on the whole family, and the local community.
“We lived on the Hightown Road, and the community spirit and the help that we got from the local people was incredible and I always had an ambition to give something back to them. Noreen McClelland and Paul Girvan were people who were very supportive of our family at that time, so it was something that I had recognised, that in terms of being on council you can make a huge difference for people.
“It did shape me politically in wanting to help people, but in another way I didn’t know if I wanted to be involved in frontline politics because it was something that may bring up issues of the past. But it’s not something that I should let keep me back.”
As a teenager, Phillip’s love of politics developed further at Belfast Royal Academy when he got involved in the campaign to retain academic selection. At the age of 16 he found himself agreeing with the DUP’s stance on the issue and took an interest in the party.
When he left school to start university he was offered a job at the Northern Ireland Assembly. After working for East Belfast MLA Sammy Douglas as a researcher and speech writer for two years, he went to work for North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds as his parliamentary assistant.
Having thrown himself into his new position on council, Cllr Brett says he’s looking forward to May’s local government election and next year’s Westminster poll, when he’s hoping to help Nigel Dodds retain his seat.
With an election looming large on the horizon, he stressed that he and his colleagues will be continuing to work on increasing voter registration over the coming weeks and months.
“In Antrim Line we did lose a seat to Sinn Fein at the last election, but the new boundary changes seem to favour us so we’re confident that we should gain a seat there,” he added.