Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Niall O Donnghaile: I want to be a role model for all of our young people

Belfast's youngest Lord Mayor, Niall O Donnghaile (26), reflects on his first week and looks forward to the year ahead

Mayor Niall O'Donnghaile

Last week was undoubtedly one of the most memorable weeks of my life. And it is my sincere hope that, in 12 months' time, I will be looking back on the positive impact I made on the life of Belfast.

Young in years as I may be, my desire is to leave a lasting legacy following my year in office. And what a year this looks sure to be.

The eyes of the world will be on Belfast for the remainder of 2011 and into 2012.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to shine on a world stage, thanks to major events such as the MTV European Music Awards, the hosting of the Transplant Games, the opening of the MAC, the visit of the Olympic torch and the opening of the showcase Titanic Belfast building, as well as a host of events relating to the commemoration of the Titanic.

The economic benefits flowing from this - in terms of tourism and jobs potential - will be massive.

I am confident that every part of the city - north, south, east and west - will reap the rewards. Engaging with citizens in every part of Belfast is my pledge as mayor. I aim to carry this out with enthusiasm, energy and optimism.

My first engagements have already included visits to projects in working-class loyalist areas; a statement of intent on my part.

And I hope that invitations - such as that to attend last night's opening session of the Presbyterian General Assembly - continue to come to me in the months ahead so that this commitment will be ongoing.

Not surprisingly, working to enhance the quality of life for young people will be a priority of mine over my year in office.

It is my hope that I can be regarded by our youth as a role model of what can be achieved - whatever their social, political or religious background happens to be.

Problems arising from disaffected youth need to be tackled directly to ensure that young people feel that they have a valuable contribution to make to improve their communities and to engage as good neighbours.

The scourge of teen suicides is a tragedy that, sadly, touches the lives of too many families across the city of Belfast.

I am committed to helping our society reach out to vulnerable teenagers and to help put measures in place which will stem their feelings of isolation and despair.

All of our citizens - including politicians - need to actually listen to what our young people tell us, as well as supporting and encouraging them. But, by focusing on youth, I do not intend to neglect the needs of others. I will be a mayor representing the needs of all age groups and people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds.

Just the other day, as I walked through the City Hall, I stopped to admire one of the remarkable pieces of art on the ground floor.

It bears the message 'It is in the shelter of others that people will flourish' - and that powerful statement immediately struck a chord in my heart.

I sincerely hope that those who are leaders in our society will nurture and encourage success as part of our daily lives.

All of us have a duty to embrace that ethos. This is our time to shine and to spotlight what makes Belfast such a great place.

The fact that our people are our greatest asset will, I hope, be the message that I and others will spread loud and clear.

Belfast has come of age. While remembering our unique history, we are turning a new page and sharing the enthusiasm to build an even better Belfast. This mix of old and new is visual proof of a dynamic city reinventing itself. Go n-eiri an tAdh linn (the best of luck).

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