I’m so proud, says Ballymena’s first nationalist mayor
A town steeped in the unionist tradition has elected a nationalist mayor for the first time.
Popular SDLP councillor PJ McAvoy is the new mayor of Ballymena. The veteran politician and activist has served as deputy mayor four times.
And in Co Tyrone, DUP newcomer Errol Thompson is the first member of his party to be appointed chairman of Omagh District Council.
The Ulster Unionists have been traditionally strong in the Omagh area. The first DUP councillors were elected in 1981.
However, a DUP councillor has never sat at the head of the council in its 39-year history — until now.
Last night Mr McAvoy spoke of his pride that his 92-year-old mother had lived to see his appointment in Ballymena.
He said: “It is a great honour to have been elected mayor for all of Ballymena. And that is the mayor I intend to be — inclusive, progressive, putting aside the divisions of the past and looking to the future.
“I know that my election is something of a milestone for the borough, but I believe that is a mark of how far we have come these last few years.”
He added: “I look forward to the year ahead, representing each and every citizen of the borough and working with both them and my council colleagues to build on Ballymena’s position as a major hub of business and tourism.”
Mr Thompson, meanwhile, described his appointment as an historic day for himself and his party colleagues. He told the Belfast Telegraph: “It’s going to be a busy period of council ahead. There are a lot of projects in Omagh and with RPA (Review of Public Administration) it’s going to be a very busy time.
“But I hope to give it my best and work with everyone.
“I feel very honoured and privileged to have been put forward.”
The father-of-two topped the polls in last May’s council election, having been co-opted on to the council following the departure of Clive McFarland.
The 50-year-old has had a varied career, serving with the UDR and the RIR for 23 years before working as a health and safety co-ordinator.
He was a research assistant for the former West Tyrone MLA Allan Bresland when he was co-opted on to his native council in 2010.