Delyth Jewell took up her place in the Assembly this week as new Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales East following the death of Steffan Lewis. IAN CRAIG met her to talk about what she wants to achieve and the legacy of her predecessor.

FOR Delyth Jewell, taking up a seat in the Senedd as an AM is the realisation of a long-held dream - but one tinged with sadness.

Ms Jewell was second on Plaid Cymru's regional list for South Wales East in the 2016 Assembly Election, but the party only won enough votes for their first candidate - Steffan Lewis - to join the Assembly.

But in a tragic twist Mr Lewis, who was just 34, died on on Friday, January 11, following a year-long battle with cancer - with Ms Jewell automatically appointed to fill his post.

Ms Jewell said she is acutely aware of the very large legacy left by her predecessor - who was liked and respected across party lines.

"For the past few weeks I've know that I would be coming into a job that I always dreamed of doing, but to be honest I've been praying to God that it wouldn’t happen," she said.


Gwent's newest AM Delyth Jewell gives her first speech in the Assembly

Gwent AM Steffan Lewis dies, aged 34

Mourners pack church for funeral of popular Gwent AM Steffan Lewis as hundreds listen to service on speakers outside

"So it’s a very mixed set of feelings.

"I'm very excited and determined about being here, but it's still very mixed.

"It still feels utterly unfair and bizarre to be saying things in tribute to him."

She also used her first speech in the Assembly earlier this week to pay tribute to Mr Lewis, quoting US President Lyndon B Johnson, who took up the office in 1963 following the assassination of John F Kennedy, saying: "All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today."

South Wales Argus:

Steffan Lewis. Picture: Plaid Cymru

Ms Jewell, who is 31 - the same age Mr Lewis was when he was elected to the Assembly in 2016 - was born in Caerphilly and grew up in Ystrad Mynach and the Rhymney Valley. Studying an undergraduate and postgraduate degree at the University of Oxford, she worked for Plaid Cymru in Westminster for five-and-a-half years.

She said her political views had been fostered by her father, who was involved in campaigning for Plaid Cymru in the Caerphilly by-election in 1968 and took her to the funerals of ex-AM Phil Williams in 2003, and ex-MP Gwynfor Evans in 2005.

"From a relatively young age I was so struck by Plaid," she said. "I think it was at Gwynfor's funeral that everyone followed the coffin out and, as the car was driven away taking it to the cemetery, everyone spontaneously started singing the national anthem.

"There's a Welsh poem (Hon by T. H. Parry-Williams) that says 'Duw a’m gwaredo, ni allaf ddianc rhag hon' - 'God help me, I cannot escape from this'.

"That sounds negative, but it's not meant in a negative way - it means I am never going to get away from this.

"That stayed with me even when I was away for university and when I was working in London for Plaid."

Ms Jewell has also worked for Citizens Advice and the charity ActionAid on issues relating to women’s rights and international development, but has never served in an elected role before, and said she was under no illusions about the scale of the challenge ahead of her.

"Austerity is certainly a huge, huge issue," she said. "The south east is the gateway to Wales in so many different ways.

"It is a region which has had deindustrialisation forced on it.

"There have been decades of neglect and under-investment."

Ms Jewell has also been appointed as Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister for international affairs and culture and said she hoped to continue some of the key issues Mr Lewis campaigned on, including miners' pensions and the availability of perinatal mental health units.

"I am looking forward to finding opportunities for promoting Wales on the international stage, especially with all the uncertainty with Brexit and the rise of British nationalism," she said. "I don’t want Wales' voice to be lost.

"I am also really really excited to get to know all of our members in the south east."

Welcoming Ms Jewell to her new role, Plaid leader Adam Price said: “Whilst joining us under incredibly tragic circumstances, Delyth will be an asset to the Plaid Cymru group and shadow cabinet here in our Senedd.

"Delyth’s wide range of skills and talents will make her an exceptional Assembly Member and a champion representative – not just for South Wales East but for the whole of Wales."

South Wales Argus:

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price. Picture: Plaid Cymru

Ms Jewell said, while she had joined the Assembly in tragic circumstances, she hoped she could work to improve the lives of the people she represents.

"The one thing I would like to say is how wonderful Steffan's family have been and how supportive they’ve been," she said. "I am in awe with gratitude about how supportive they’ve been.

"They’ve gone out of their way to show me love."

She added: "The south east is a very rich area in so many ways in terms of the history we have, in terms of our culture.

"I am so proud I come from this part of Wales and I know the people of that area feel that as well. I want us to be proud of the opportunities we have in the area.

"As well as where we’re coming from, I want us to be proud of where we’re going to.

"I know Steffan would want me to focus on the job and do everything I can, and it's important I try to keep him with me."