Northern Ireland is home to 11 local councils, two of which have heads who have been bestowed the honorific title of Lord Mayor, leaving six mayors and three chairpersons. Following the recent local elections, agendaNi presents the newcomers to the seats atop their respective councils.
Only the leaders of councils in Belfast and Armagh have had the honorific title of Lord Mayor bestowed upon them. The latter was bestowed upon Armagh in 2012 by the Queen during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Having originally applied strictly to Armagh in the days of Armagh City and District Council, the title was carried over during the reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland, with the Lord Mayor now Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough.
The office of the Lord Mayor of Belfast stretches back to 1613, when those in office were given the title of Sovereign of Belfast. The office was then renamed to the Mayor of Belfast in 1842, with the Lord prefix added in 1892, four years after Belfast had been granted city status. Despite its lack of a Lord honorific, Northern Ireland’s oldest mayoral office is that of the Mayor of Derry, which dates back to 1604, as Provost of Derry, soon renamed to the present-day Mayor of Derry in 1613.
The typical duties and responsibilities of a Lord Mayor, Mayor, or Chairperson in Northern Ireland are as follows:
- Presiding over council meetings and casting a second/deciding vote in the case of equality of votes;
- The promotion of their council’s main objectives and chosen key issues;
- Attending and speaking at public and civic events in their borough/city;
- Receiving distinguished visitors to the borough/city;
- Acting as host at council-held civic events;
- Acting as a spokesperson to media on behalf of their council;
- Promotion of their borough/city as a place to live and do business; and
- Supporting and encouraging charitable appeals within their borough/city.
Only council areas given borough status may name the heads of their council as Mayor, hence the reasoning for Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Mid Ulster District Council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council all having variations on Chair/Chairman/Chairperson as the title for their leaders. Those with city status are guaranteed at least mayoral status for their office, although Lord Mayoral status is said to be more difficult to attain, as can be seen with both Derry and Lisburn.
These leaders are typically chosen by the councillors themselves, using the D’Hondt system, similar to that used to select ministers in the Stormont executive, and requires all councillors to be present. A rotation of parties is agreed upon so as to avoid a monopoly on the position in areas where one party or one side of the divide has enjoyed consistent success. In Derry, for example, where Derry and Strabane Borough Council, and Derry City Council before it, have had nationalist/republican majorities since the reorganisation of Northern Ireland’s local government structures in 1973, there has been four DUP mayors since the turn of the century.