Former structural engineer Naomi Long has spoken to NCE about her campaign to defend her seat in Parliament in next month’s general election.
Long, who graduated from Queen’s University Belfast in 1994 with an MEng in civil engineering with distinction, was elected as MP for Belfast East in 2010. She spent nine years working as a structural and sewerage engineer before moving into politics.
Long said the politics of Belfast in the early 1990s had a big impact on her career.
“I just thought it was important for people to take a stand and to get involved in shaping the society around them, whether that was physically in the job I was doing or whether that was with the policies and other things that were happening in the city and the changes that were taking place,” she said.
Long spoke to NCE about her bid to be re-elected next month.
Do you think that engineering has influenced your work as a politician and if so how?
“It’s been very practically helpful for me in terms of my constituency work, as my constituency is prone to flooding.
“Both in terms of underfunding of infrastructure in Northern Ireland, and in terms of its loch side location, it has been useful for me to be able to communicate with various statutory agencies.
“Also I can be realistic with constituents about what agencies can actually do to help them protect their properties and reduce the risk. You come at it with a certain logical approach that you learn when you’re approaching any problem in engineering.
“It’s also been useful for me in Parliament because I have a particular interest in international development and so I’ve been doing quite a lot of work with organisations like WaterAid.”
Do any of your policies reflect the fact that you were an engineer?
“The need for prioritisation of infrastructure investment. The need for a longer planning framework, particularly around financing, because I recognise that most large infrastructure projects have long lead in times, yet most investment decisions are taken in the cycle of a Parliament.
“The area which is of particular interest to me is in sewage infrastructure as it’s something which is below ground and never seen. People tend to overlook it and forget it. It can be catastrophic when it goes wrong. We have to continue to invest to match the pace of development that we want to do above ground. Flooding and climate change are putting our drainage and sewage systems under considerable stress and I think that we have to be realistic about the amount of infrastructure that we’re going to require.”
Do you think there should be more engineers as politicians?
“I think that having some technical knowledge is actually quite important. There are a mix of people in Parliament and that is good as it should reflect wider society, but where we are under-represented is people who have practical experience of engineering and science. I think that is a pity as it’s hard to see how you can understand the needs of the industry, the complexities of the work that’s being done, unless you have some real life experience.
“I also think being an engineer you learn to work collaboratively. You deal with a lot of people working together, but actually in politics, collaboration is one of the hardest things to achieve. So it’s having those skills to get people to co-operate and work together to deliver complex projects which take a long time to reach fruition.”