Outgoing mayor urges office reform
The office of Belfast's Lord Mayor is dominated by unionist trappings and must be reformed to reflect the diversity of a changed city, the outgoing First Citizen has said.
Sinn Fein's Niall O Donnghaile became the city's youngest ever mayor at the age of only 25 and leaves office on Friday after a dramatic 12 months where he welcomed superstars at the MTV music awards and played a prominent role in marking the Titanic's centenary.
He became embroiled in controversy for attending a Duke of Edinburgh awards event where he shared out responsibility for presenting prizes to avoid a teenage military cadet - but while he again apologised over the affair, he argued it did not reflect the tone of his time in office.
Mr O Donnghaile, who is only the third Sinn Fein member to be mayor, said he broke new ground with repeated visits to loyalist areas, which continued even after scores of masked UVF men sparked riots by attacking homes in the Catholic enclave of Short Strand where the mayor happens to live.
He said of his loyalist visits: "I am very, very proud I was able to do that - proud for me, proud for the party that I come from, but also for the city."
The mayor's eventful year in office - recorded by no less than two separate fly-on-the-wall documentary teams - included meeting teen heart-throb Justin Bieber, attending the Presbyterian Church General Assembly, visiting the Royal Family's St James' Palace in London to promote tourism to his native city, and bringing children's TV megastar Mr Tumble to turn on Belfast's Christmas lights.
But he argued that many of the trappings and duties of the office were created by unionists when they dominated the city's political life, and present hurdles for nationalists and republicans who take on the role.
When he displayed both republican and royal pictures in the mayor's parlour, and laid a wreath to the war dead instead of attending the formal Remembrance Sunday events, he believed unionists were too quick to dismiss what he said was a bid to compromise.
"What the unionist parties across the board all articulated was that they didn't want me to be a lord mayor for all, they wanted me to be a unionist," he said.
"That is why I am saying it is going to change - the whole notion of this office - as different people start to occupy it."