He’s a Welshman of Yemeni extract who confesses to be “weird” looking but Abdo Thabet believes he can deliver some of the solutions to the problems of North Belfast.
The Glengormley man is running in North Belfast in the Assembly elections for the Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee – a group of local British Labour party members who are defying the party by contesting the election in the six counties – something Labour has always traditionally avoided.
Abdo has lived in Glengormley for eight years and he says he believes North Belfast is ready for change.
“There is this disaffection I have seen in North Belfast that has come about because everyone knows that the main parties are in a cosy situation where they don’t have to do much to get votes.”
He said he has already been involved in grass roots campaigns in the city and has outlined mental health as a priority given his own experiences.
“I suffer from depression and have been in Hollywell a few times, hence the beard. This grew because you’re not allowed sharp things when you’re a patient so the beard and the hair grew and grew and it became something of a feature but it’s also a constant reminder of the journey I am on trying to get better. It’s a day to day struggle. It’s not a matter of prescribing pills and you get better – not for me anyway.”
His own experiences of therapeutic communities – of which there are six in the north – has given him experience of how the issues can be tackled.
“When I was depressed I lost my house and it was a nightmare. I was homeless but I was able to get into the therapeutic community and it has taught me we need more places like this to provide an environment where people can rebuild.”
A more pressing issue for Abdo and his colleagues who will contest the election could be expulstion from Labour because of their decision to challenge the policy of not running in the six counties. He says he believes they will be allowed to stay within the fold however.
“Our legal team has looked at the issue of expulsion and the key is we are not calling ourselves the Labour Party. Clause 12 says that no Labour Party member can stand against a Labour Party candidate. As the Labour Party cannot field candidates we are not standing against the party so we think we are on safe ground. If we weren’t we wouldn’t do it. If people ask is the Labour Party standing, I say no. But we want to give Labour voters on both sides of the community a voice and that is why we are running.”
By Evan Short