In 2016, Patricia returned to university to research the complex social issue of school exclusion.
During this time, she was accepted onto the prestigious year-long Washington Ireland Programme for service and leadership. As a result, she spent two months living in Washington DC where she interned for Senator John McCain in Capitol Hill whilst learning a bespoke curriculum designed to teach participants the essence of inclusive leadership, ethical management and the value of a service-focused mindset.
Patricia excelled in her studies yet was daunted at the prospect of interning for Senator McCain. Born into a conflict society, she was actively discouraged by her family, teachers and peers from taking an interest in democracy or becoming politically active due to the prospect of becoming a target of sectarian violence. Therefore, when Patricia arrived at Capitol Hill and was introduced to political interns who were the children of well known lobbyists, multi-millionaire business owners and political experts, she realized the need to up her game.
In order to ensure that she could keep up with the demands of working for a Senator, Patricia would return to her host family in the evening and study Irish history and Northern Ireland politics. In the morning she would rise at 5am and read any American political literature she could find to ensure she was able to avail of any opportunities to impress the Senator and help her colleagues.
Twice a week, Patricia would also engage in class debates and town hall discussions with other programme participants. On a Friday she volunteered at a local summer school for deprived African American children and at the weekend she would attend speaker events and networking opportunities.
Towards the end of the summer Senator McCain asked what Patricia planned to do upon her return to Ireland. Naively, she responded by explaining how keen she and her sister were to take a holiday to Ibiza! Through a furrowed brow, Sentor McCain said 'I don think so. By the time you return to DC next year, I want to hear you have taken a step forward into politics at home. Once you do that then think about going on holiday.'
Upon returning to Northern Ireland, Patricia followed Senator McCain's orders and reached out to an aspiring politician called Kate Nicholl who was a member of the Alliance Party. Patrica and Kate met in the Student's Union for a coffee under the guise of friendship. Thirty minutes later, Patricia left as a fully fledged member of the Alliance Party. Sold by the liberal values and ethos of cross community work under pinning the Alliance Political philosophy, Patricia finally found her political home in Northern Ireland.
Within 3 months Patricia had proved her worth as a dedicated activist and was invited by the North Antrim Alliance Association to represent them as their political candidate in the 2017 Assembly election. She polled 3030 votes coming 9th out of 12 candidates.
After this electoral defeat, Patricia went about building a political movement in her constituency. When she joined the political association there were few members and fewer activists. Within the next 3 years, she recruited enough volunteers to enable the association to triple in size. She organised regular meetings, community consultation exercises and continued to canvass on a regular basis.
Patricia went on to be a candidate in a further 3 elections, 2 of which were at at Westminster level where she continue to grow her personal vote. Then in 2019, Patricia finally experienced her first electoral win when she became elected to serve at local government level as a Councillor representing the people of Ballymena Town. Not only did Patricia's strategy prove successful, it also proved effective as she was able to get a colleague elected to a neighboring district!
From 2019 onwards, Patricia developed a reputation for being a fierce political opponent. Her Alliance council colleagues named her 'the sledge hammer' as Patricia would regularly save her contribution to Chamber debates until the end where should would rebut any arguments wedged by opponents and reinforce her Party's position.
During her time on council, Patricia brought motions to address sectarianism, end period poverty and also make misogyny a hate crime. Her political activism at grassroots level continued in the community as the next Assembly election was just around the corner.
Whilst finishing her PhD, working full time, and fulfilling the role of a Councillor Patricia developed a keenness for policy making. In 2021, she was appointed Special Political Adviser to Naomi Long, MLA, in her role as Justice Minister. During this time Patricia developed her campaigning strategies in preparation for the Assembly Election of 2022 and took every opportunity to learn the craft of campaigning from her party leader.
She researched, designed and executed a new political strategy which took her and her campaign team deep into areas within the constituency formerly declared 'too unsafe' to canvass. Patricia and the team worked harder than ever before, securing new votes and transfers wherever possible.
As a result, on the 5th of May, 2022, Patricia beat all odds to become the first woman in the history of Northern Ireland elected to serve the people of North Antrim. 2 days later she signed into the Northern Ireland Assembly as a 'United Community' representative. Patricia marks this day, as the best day of her life, and career to date.