Meet the Independents: Raymond Barr
As part of a series of articles finding out what makes the north's independent political representatives tick, John Breslin speaks to Strabane man Raymond Barr, a member of Derry City and Strabane District Council
“My decision to run for council was believe it or not the result of a disagreement where I was challenged to 'do better' than those in possession of seats.
“Strabane is an area of high social and economic deprivation and has been for as long as it's been in existence.
“I hoped that amalgamation with Derry would have been beneficial to the town but that has not as yet turned out to be the case.
“I also thought that the main political parties would have been more vociferous in their representation of the town but I was hearing time and again from locals who felt let down.”
Mr Barr considers himself a left-of-centre republican. His brother Ivan, a key influence, was a member of the early Republican Clubs, an ex-chair of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and a Sinn Féin councillor at the time of his 2008 death.
“I was in Sinn Féin for a short time but was never comfortable. I had trouble at times toeing the party line on many issues.
“I decided to run as an independent as I wanted the freedom (and) that autonomy would not have been available to me as a member of a party.
“Frankly I would have found it difficult to vote for something I didn't agree. I don't see councillors as politicians. I certainly don't consider myself a politician, more a community worker with a mandate to put pressure on politicians.
“If anything what I have seen in my three and a half years in council has convinced me I was right to stand as an independent.
“The party bickering and obsession with point scoring has in my opinion stunted progress in efforts to improve life in Strabane.
“The chamber can be a lonely place at times for an independent. I don't have the party machine to share the burden of work or to engage in research for me but I have the advantage of being able to transmit my feelings and of those who elected me without fear of having to answer to a party whip,
“I am of the belief that since Strabane amalgamated with Derry City Council we have become the poor relation.
“There is a disparity in spending that needs to be addressed. Strabane is no better off than it was before amalgamation.
“In terms of achievement I was proud of the motion I got passed last year asking the Derry-based councillors be taken on a walkabout of Strabane to let them see what the town had not got.
“Only two city-based councillors turned up (and) that to me was proof of the apathy that existed towards Strabane.
“If I was a party councillor I don't think I would have lasted and I feel some of these reps should be putting people before party if they are sincere about giving the town proper representation.”