The Deputy Mayor of Ards has officially welcomed the establishment of a new Caribbean consulate in Comber.
Councillor Jim Fletcher hosted an official reception on Monday to mark the opening of the new consulate of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The consulate is based on the village's Glen Road, and new consul, Dr Christopher G. Stange is at its helm.
“I was delighted to learn that a new consulate was to become operational in Ards and am honoured to be meeting with Dr Stange,” said Councillor Fletcher.
“Northern Ireland is increasingly home to people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and we in Ards now count those from across the globe as part of our community.
"The opening of a consulate is significant, not only in formally recognising the changing mix of our society, but also how new links with other countries can be mutually beneficial from both a cultural and economic perspective.”
Dr Stange said the addition of a Caribbean consulate to Northern Ireland was “a remarkable achievement” and shows “just how culturally diverse we are becoming, especially in terms of social and economic regeneration through devolution”.
“St Vincent and the Grenadines, being a former British colony, already has strong historical links with the UK, gaining its independence in 1979,” Dr Stange said. “With the increasing amount of Caribbean nationals and stability in Northern Ireland, it was a natural progression to expand our relations.”
According to the last census in 2001, ethnic minorities made up less than one percent of the population in Northern Ireland.
Dr Stange said he believed this figure had now reached around eight percent.
“Northern Ireland is opening its doors to a host of visitors from vibrant, ethnic backgrounds with many finding Northern Ireland an attractive place to live and work," he said.
Dr Stange said he will initially divide his time between the consulate and his spinal surgery in Comber.
A Canadian national, he has been living and working in Northern Ireland for the past 11 years.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is situated in the Eastern Caribbean at the southern end of the Windward Islands chain.
It is an archipelago of islands, St Vincent being the largest, with the smaller Grenadines comprising Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau, Union Island, Palm Island, Petit St. Vincent and a number of small islets.
The country gained independence from Britain on October 27, 1979.