Sam Gardiner is a quintessential Orange gentleman, a Lurgan councillor and UUP MLA. In the window of his office in the town’s main street is a small model gentleman wearing a pinstripe suit and rolled up umbrella over his arm. It often attracts the attention of passing children (and their parents). At a certain time in July, he’s known to dawn his own minature sash.But, Gardiner says, the door of his office is open to anyone. He recalls a time when a Catholic man who’d been beaten by the IRA, came to him to be rehoused in another area. And if it’s raining, they can borrow one of set of complementary umbrellas, so long as they bring it back. There were five still unreturned when Slugger visited.
He first entered council when he was only 23 and was Lurgan’s youngest mayor at 28. He’s been a mayor four times. He explains, “It’s something in the system and you do it for your community and I get great satisfaction out of serving the community”. Election time is something of an up and down period!
I don’t care who you are, the count is the most nervewracking thing. Everybody’s on tender hooks. One minute your pile is going up and then the next someone else is ahead of you. You’re watching them all coming out of the pigeon holes, and there’s not too many going out for Gardiner, or there’s not many going out for one of my collegues and you feel a bit down, and then they open another box and there’s a flood coming out.
For most of the campaign he says, “when you are out canvassing you are on a high to a degree. You go flat at the count. And when your name’s read on the first, second or third count you just want to go home”.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty