Mayor looks back over year in role
The crisis created by the Union flags dispute gave Belfast's outgoing Lord Mayor a chance to do more than simply pose for the cameras, Gavin Robinson has revealed.
The 28-year-old DUP man, whose east Belfast constituency was marred by some of the worst scenes of violence, admitted that the months of protests had been a challenging but insisted they had not overshadowed his 12 months in office.
"It was a difficult period in this year but, as with some of the other difficulties it has given me a chance to a bit more than just turn up and smile which is the normal role of a civic champion," he said.
"Out of crisis comes opportunity. The flags protest brought two initiatives borne out of the difficulty at that time. The first was in advance of Christmas where we unveiled a package of £150,000 to support our retail sector within the city.
"After Christmas the hospitality sector was the one most adversely affected so the 'Backin Belfast Campaign' £1.5 million not only had a direct spent which helped the city as a whole but showed businesses how much they can achieve when they work together."
Mr Robinson, a barrister and former special adviser to First Minister Peter Robinson, officially stands down as Lord Mayor next month. Sinn Fein's south Belfast councillor and media mogul Mairtin O Muilleoir, who was re-elected to the City Council in 2011, has been widely tipped to take over the role.
"I would like to see somebody who is going to be a positive champion for the city of Belfast and maintain the dignity of the office of Lord Mayor in standing up for the city and not selfish singular self interest," said Mr Robinson.
The flags controversy which erupted in December was the biggest challenge of his year. As a DUP councillor Mr Robinson voted against the proposal to limit the number of days the Union flag was flown over Belfast City Hall but, as head of the council he had to stand by the decision - which caused difficulties for some in his local constituency.
"A lot of people were asking very respectfully - using whatever adjectives they liked - to put the flag back up again," he said.
"I don't think there was any doubting before the vote was taken that this was going to be a touchstone issue and that people were going to be annoyed, aggravated and angered," he added. "But, I was shocked at just how widespread that was and that people right across the province were taking an interest in the decision of Belfast irrespective of what the flag flying policy was in their areas."