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Baroness Hussein-Ece: Highbury peer on why she loves Chapel Market, and her fears about Brexit

PUBLISHED: 16:24 29 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:37 02 January 2018

Baroness Meral Hussein Ece of Highbury. Picture: Polly Hancock

Baroness Meral Hussein Ece of Highbury. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Baroness Hussein-Ece of Highbury was the first Turkish-Cypriot woman to be elected to public office in the UK. The Lib Dem equalities spokeswoman tells the Gazette what makes her tick.

Baroness Meral Hussein Ece, at home in Highbury. Picture: Polly Hancock Baroness Meral Hussein Ece, at home in Highbury. Picture: Polly Hancock

Becoming a Hackney councillor in 1994 made Meral Hussein-Ece the first woman from a Turkish-Cypriot background to be elected to public office in the UK.

“My message as a councillor was: we live here, our kids were born here, so we have to get engaged and make our contribution,” Baroness Hussein-Ece, a Lib Dem peer since 2010, told the Gazette.

Since then, she’s strived to be a voice for minority communities in north London – including Islington, where she’s spent most of her life. Her full title is Baroness Hussein-Ece of Highbury.

“My father came over from Cyprus in 1948 to live in Islington,” she said, “then my mother came in 1953 to visit her brother, but she met my father and they got married. They set up a business on Essex Road.

“The community cohesion is so strong - diversity is the thread that runs through it all. When I go down to Chapel Market I see faces who’ve worked there for years, and I think that’s the strength of it – the people who remain in Islington.”

Born to Turkish-Cypriot parents in 1963, Baroness Hussein-Ece grew up in Ockendon Road.

“I ended up getting a job with Islington libraries,” she said, “and quickly got into community politics from that.”

Baroness Meral Hussein Ece, at home in Highbury. Picture: Polly Hancock Baroness Meral Hussein Ece, at home in Highbury. Picture: Polly Hancock

While there, she embarked upon one of her proudest achievements to date – the first domestic violence project for Turkish-Kurdish and Turkish-Cypriot women.

“These were the days when there was so much domestic violence but women didn’t go out of their immediate circles to report it – or they didn’t know they could,” she said. “We got funding and employed support workers to enable women to get protection, education, and employment.”

As she’s advanced up the political ladder, her work for the most disadvantaged has continued. Since June 2010 she’s sat in the House of Lords as the Lib Dem spokeswoman for equalities. Just before the parliamentary break for Christmas, she raised the question of Brexit’s impact on these communities.

“I asked what impact assessments had been done for Brexit’s effect on inequality. We know it’s disproportionately likely to hurt people from ethnic minority backgrounds, but we don’t know how. My question was simply: when they replace EU laws, how will they make sure they don’t dumb down protections on inequalities? I did not get a satisfactory answer.”

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