Belfast City Hall gates should come down, says mayor
Belfast's new Lord Mayor has called for the imposing wrought iron gates outside City Hall to be torn down.
Nichola Mallon wants the historic building to be more accessible to the public, and has also called for it to open at weekends.
She said it would send out a strong message that Belfast was transforming as a city.
"Ideally I would like to see the gates taken down so that it's visually more open for citizens and visitors alike," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I think the building should be open seven days a week. The front gates are closed on Saturday and Sunday, but we have a great asset for the city and a tourist attraction, and we should be making more use of it."
In her first in-depth interview since taking the post, the North Belfast SDLP councillor also said:
- Women are too under-represented in politics, with this only the third time the Lord Mayor has been a woman.
- More events should be held at City Hall, with plans for tai chi, movie nights in front of the big screen and even a beach party.
- She talked horse-racing, the World Cup and dietary advice with the Queen.
Ms Mallon grew up in Ardoyne and joined the SDLP when she was 18. She has been a councillor in North Belfast since 2010.
Last month the 34-year-old become only the third female Lord Mayor of Belfast.
Among her key priorities for the year ahead is the City Hall itself – including taking away the impressive metal gates.
"I think that would send a strong message about how we are transformed as a city," she added.
"That is something that has to work through the structures of the council, it isn't just in my gift.
"However, I hope to work with council colleagues towards that."
She also plans to have regular events in the grounds of City Hall.
"The City Hall, rightly is a place of protest for citizens but it should also be a place of fun and positivity, and I think we could be doing more in the grounds of City Hall to promote our city," she added.
One of Ms Mallon's first engagements as Lord Mayor was meeting the Queen as she paid her first visit in around half-a-century to City Hall.
"I thought she was a lovely lady – very easy to talk to and sharp-witted," she said.
"We talked about horse-racing and she spoke about the World Cup, and the fact she had watched a hurling game recently.
"I asked her for advice about eating out so often on engagements, and how to avoid piling on weight and she said there was an art to pushing your food around the plate, which she showed me."
Ms Mallon also believes there are too few women in politics.
"I think it should always be a meritocracy, where you rise on your merits," she said.