Belfast could have its youngest ever Lord Mayor, as speculation grows about who will become the city’s new First Citizen next week.
City Hall newcomer Orla Nic Biorna, who only became a Sinn Fein councillor in October last year, has been tipped for the nomination, according to council sources.
Alliance’s Emmet McDonough-Brown has already been selected be his party to become the next Deputy Lord Mayor at the annual general meeting on June 4.
Ms Nic Biorna was aged just 19 when she was co-opted onto the Sinn Fein benches to replace veteran republican Janice Austin late last year.
She is currently studying at St Mary’s in west Belfast and is a former pupil of Irish language school Colaiste Feirste.
Hailing from a family of Irish speakers, the St Mary’s student was made a councillor at a time when Sinn Fein leaders were negotiating for an Irish Language Act at Stormont and she frequently speaks the language in council chambers.
Belfast City Council has only recently launched its language strategy, which includes an Irish language strand, and are currently in the process of recruited two council language officers, one for Irish and another for Ulster Scots, Sign Language and others.
Orla Nic Biorna has been a party activist since the age of 16 and spoke at Sinn Fein’s historic Ard Fheis in Dublin in November last year - less than a month after becoming a councillor.
Belfast’s current Lord Mayor, Alliance’s Nuala McAllister, will officially step down at Monday’s meeting at City Hall, just as an Ombudsman’s report into her alleged misconduct in 2016 is in its “final stages”, according to officials.
In 2011, the council decided to start using the d’Hondt system to allocate positions of responsibility, such as Lord Mayor and committee chairs, based on the number of councillors elected from each party.
This year is Sinn Fein’s turn to select one of its 19 representatives for the post, having previously nominated Councillor Arder Carson for the position last time round in 2015.
Sinn Fein do have form in selecting young candidates for the top council job, however.
If selected, Ms Nic Biorna would become Belfast’s youngest ever Lord Mayor, beating her party colleague Niall O Donnghaile, who was 25 when he took the chain of office in 2011, by five years.
Other representatives to hold one of the council’s most high-profile positions was the DUP’s Guy Spence, who was 23 when he served as Deputy Lord Mayor in 2015.
Sinn Fein did not respond for a comment on who they will be officially nominating for Lord Mayor in the coming days.
Alliance Councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown will be taking over the reigns as Deputy Mayor from the Ulster Unionist Party’s Sonia Copeland.
The south Belfast Councillor said he was “delighted and proud” to have been selected by his party for a role he will take on with “enthusiasm and positivity”.
“Belfast has a great story to tell and I’m naturally pleased to be taking on this important civic role. I look forward to working closely with the Lord Mayor in the year ahead to highlight the best of Belfast,” he added.
“I plan to champion progressive causes and charities in my time as Deputy Lord Mayor, highlighting the challenges women still face in our society, asserting the positive role the Irish language plays in Belfast, and showcasing the progress we are making right across our city.”