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Pat Cullen standing down as RCN chief in bid to become Sinn Fein MP

She is stepping down from her role as chief executive and general secretary of the nursing union

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Pat Cullen

The head of the Royal College of Nursing has announced she is stepping down to try to become an MP for Sinn Fein in the General Election.

Pat Cullen, who led nurses across the country into unprecedented strike action, said she is standing down from her role as chief executive and general secretary of the nursing union.

She will be seeking nomination to stand for the republican party in Fermanagh & South Tyrone in the Westminster election in July, saying she is ready to work to better the lives of workers, families and communities.

The mother-of two said in a statement: “I have been in contact with my employers at the Royal College of Nursing to inform them that I have allowed my name to go forward to a selection convention being held in the constituency this week.

“It has been the honour of my life to have served in the RCN and to provide leadership every day to hundreds of thousands of hardworking nurses and healthcare staff who always prioritise the delivery of high-quality care to patients.

“After much consideration, I have decided that now is the right time for me to step forward into the political arena to champion the issues and opportunities for the community I love, and that is what I am fully determined to do.”

Paul Vaughan, who chairs the RCN Council, said: “Pat has been a tremendous leader for our profession and put the college on a journey to a brighter future.

(PA Graphics)

“She has been fearless in rooting out longstanding cultural issues internally and speaking truth to power in the health service and politics alike.”

Sinn Fein refuses to take its seats at Westminster because of opposition to the London Parliament’s jurisdiction in Northern Ireland and the oath MPs must make to the King.

The RCN is holding its annual conference next week.

Ms Cullen is the youngest of seven children and grew up in Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland. She is married with two children and recently became a grandmother.

She holds a degree in nursing and a masters in management and qualified as a registered nurse in 1985 working in a range of community and clinical healthcare settings, before becoming a director of nursing.

She has held senior roles including director of nursing at the Public Health Agency and adviser to the Department of Health, before joining the Royal College of Nursing in 2016, and became the director of the college in Northern Ireland in 2019.

She is an honorary professor of Queen’s University in Belfast.

Pay and safe conditions for nursing staff have been top of the agenda for Ms Cullen and a key focus in her role as general secretary and chief executive of the RCN.

She was a high-profile media figure during strikes by nurses, often joining RCN members on picket lines.

In 2023, DUP MP Gregory Campbell wrote to the RCN seeking clarification on whether comments reportedly made by Ms Cullen at the West Belfast Festival in favour of Irish unity reflected a view held by the union or were made in a personal capacity.

The Fermanagh & South Tyrone seat is currently held by Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew, but she is not seeking re-election and is instead running in the European elections in Ireland.

At the last general election in 2019, there were just 57 votes between Ms Gildernew and defeated unionist candidate Tom Elliott.

In the 2015 poll, Mr Elliott, a former Ulster Unionist Party leader, became the first unionist to hold the constituency since 2001, before Ms Gildernew won it back for Sinn Fein two years later.

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