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The mayors and chairs of Northern Ireland

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.

Antrim and Newtownabbey

The DUP’s John Smyth was elected as the new Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, replacing the UUP’s Paul Michael, to whom he had been deputy Mayor. A member of the Antrim Methodist Church and the Loyal Orders, Smyth helped to found Muckamore Credit Union and has been a councillor since 2001. His deputy Mayor is Sinn Féin’s Anne Marie Logue.

Ards and North Down

Ards and North Down’s new Mayor, William Keery, has previously served as deputy Mayor for the 2016/17 term. The DUP councillor had previously represented the UK Unionist Party on North Down Borough Council before its dissolution in 2005. He replaced the UUP’s Richard Smart and his deputy for the duration of his term will be Alliance Party councillor Karen Douglas.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon

The SDLP’s Mealla Campbell is the newly elected Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon. A councillor since 2005, she is the second and second-consecutive female Lord Mayor for the borough, having succeeded Julie Flaherty of the UUP. With her deputy Lord Mayor, the DUP’s Margaret Tinsley, Campbell makes up one of the four all-female council head offices in Northern Ireland.

Belfast

Sinn Féin’s John Finucane was recently named as the new Lord Mayor of Belfast, having just won a council seat in the Castle district for the first time in the recent elections. Finucane had previously run to be a Sinn Féin MP in North Belfast but failed to unseat the DUP’s Nigel Dodds despite securing his party’s highest vote share ever in the constituency. Having succeeded party colleague Deirdre Hargey, his deputy Lord Mayor is Alliance councillor, Peter McReynolds.

Causeway Coast and Glens

The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough for the 2019/20 term will be Seán Bateson of Sinn Féin. 26-year-old Kilrea native Bateson is a history teacher by day and replaced party colleague Brenda Chivers as Mayor. The DUP’s Sharon McKillop will act as his deputy Mayor.

Derry and Strabane

Michaela Boyle of Sinn Féin is one of five councillors from her party to claim first citizen status within their borough or district. Having been co-opted onto Strabane District Council in 2008, Boyle was elected to the Assembly in Tyrone West in 2011 and has now given up her seat in order to return to local government at a time of inertia in Stormont. She too has an all-female office, with the SDLP’s Cara Hunter deputising for her.

Fermanagh and Omagh

Siobhán Currie of Sinn Féin was elected as Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council for the term 2019/20. Similar to Finucane, Currie takes up the role in her first term as councillor. She too leads an all-female top office, with Diana Armstrong of the UUP serving as Vice Chair.

Lisburn and Castlereagh

Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council will be led by their new Mayor, Alan Givan of the DUP. Givan represents the South Lisburn ward and his deputy will be former NI21 man, the SDLP’s Johnny McCarthy, his party’s first holder of the position in the new Lisburn and Castlereagh Council.

Mid and East Antrim

The UUP’s only first citizen in Northern Ireland’s 11 local government wards is Maureen Morrow, the newly elected Mayor of Mid and East Antrim. Succeeding her party colleague Lindsay Millar, she will lead the only all-female, all-unionist head office of any of the councils, with Beth Adger of the DUP serving as deputy Mayor.

Mid Ulster

The SDLP’s Martin Kearney was named as Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, replacing Sinn Féin’s Seán McPeake and becoming one of two leaders of councils from his party in the current term. A representative of Carntogher, just like McPeake, Kearney is the first SDLP Chair of Mid Ulster since the district’s inception in 2015. His deputy is Clement Cuthbertson of the DUP.

Newry, Mourne and Down

Charlie Casey rounds out the five strong cohort of Sinn Féin leaders of councils having been named as Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. Casey has been a councillor since 2001 and previously served as Mayor of Newry for the 2011/12 term as part of the now abolished Newry and Mourne District Council. He succeeds the SDLP’s Mark Murnin and his Vice Chairperson will be another SDLP man, Terry Andrews.

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