Youngest ever Sheffield city councillor aims to break political stigma

The biggest worry for most Sheffield students is balancing finances while mixing the right amount of study and enjoyment of university life.

Thursday, 19th May 2016, 3:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th May 2016, 3:41 pm
Moya O'Rourke, who at 20 is the youngest member of Sheffield Council.

But 20-year-old University of Sheffield student Moya O’Rourke has now taken on the concerns of thousands of others after becoming the youngest member of Sheffield Council.

Coun O’Rourke was elected for the Labour Party in the City ward alongside two Green Party councillors, Robert Murphy and Douglas Johnson. It was a close fight, with the third Green candidate just a handful of votes away from a seat.

Sheffield Town Hall

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Architecture student Coun O’Rourke is now familiarising herself with the workings of the city council and Sheffield’s Labour group. And she is determined to make the most of the two years she has in office before the next election.

She said: “I’m going to make a Facebook page so I can target people in my ward directly. That’s one thing we definitely need to improve on. I need to know my ward.

“One of the most valuable things I can do is to know the ward better, rather than having it as an enigma.

“I’ve got two years. That means I need to facilitate the next person, whoever that is. It’s not about me, it’s about the Labour Party. The people I’m meeting can make a difference.”

Sheffield Town Hall

Coun O’Rourke, originally from Heywood, near Rochdale, has taken an interest in politics most of her life, and got involved with the Sheffield Labour student group.

“We had Rotherham MP Sarah Champion visit,” she said. “She was brilliant. Really interesting. She said it was all a surprise to her but she got elected. She spoke about things that she wasn’t supposed to.

“Someone said would I be interested in politics. One of the students. Up to then it had just been my annoying self, wanting to change things. But they said I would be a great councillor.”

Coun O’Rourke was soon contacted by Sheffield Labour Party and within days was selected as a candidate for the new city ward. And on May 6 she was elected as a councillor.

Since then, she has already found frustration in council procedure.

“At the mayor making it was just waving things through by the people that knew what was happening,” she said. “It was all for show. It’s already decided who’s going to be the mayor, so why are we pretending to put our hands up and vote?”

But Coun O’Rourke is determined to work for her ward. She said: “It would be ridiculous for me to sit here and say I know what the ward needs.

“What I have noticed already is from Sheffield City Centre Residents Action Group meetings. What seems to be coming up again and again is daytime drinkers in West Street and rough sleepers. I want to learn about that and I do want to help. It’s not because they intimidate me. If there’s anything that can be done to help, that would be fantastic.”

And although her youth can be problematic, with online trolls making comments almost as soon as she was elected, Coun O’Rourke believes it will be beneficial.

“Being the youngest councillor is a positive thing,” she said. “We have this idea of the people involved in politics. I would hope that I break that idea. Anyone can get involved. I’ve never formally studied politics. It’s only through talking to people and life experience that I’m involved.

“I’m really looking forward to the next two years. It’s not daunting. Because it’s a new ward there’s so much to be doing that I have just got to get on with it.”