Belfast's new Lord Mayor has said he wants the city council to establish closer links with Stormont to help drive the economy forward.
The DUP’s Gavin Robinson, who took the chain of office on Friday night, has called for more intense collaboration between councillors and officers in the City Hall and their counterparts in the Assembly in an effort to boost business.
“Sometimes I think Belfast City Council, as a local council, and the Northern Ireland Executive, as local government, has not been as well connected as they otherwise ought to be,” he told the Belfast Telegraph in his first in-depth interview.
The 27-year-old, a qualified barrister and former special adviser to the First Minister Peter Robinson (no relation), was first elected on to the council in March 2010 and is the first DUP Lord Mayor since Wallace Brown in 2005.
Mr Robinson said his main focus over the next 12 months will be to aid the struggling city centre, where around one-in-five shops lie vacant. He said it will be essential to entice big names back to areas such as Donegall Place and Royal Avenue.
One of the most contentious issues for the previous Mayor was his removal of royal portraits from his parlour.
Niall O Donnghaile sparked controversy when he replaced paintings of Prince Charles and the Queen Mother with a copy of the Irish Proclamation of Independence and a painting of the United Irishmen.
Mr Robinson has said he hoped the room would be returned to its original state.
“I don’t think the Irish Proclamation has any relevance to the city of Belfast. It has resonance, absolutely with members of the nationalist and republican community, but there is no Belfast connection,” he said.
The previous nationalist Mayor was also hailed for historic visits to loyalist heartlands within days of being appointed.
However, Mr Robinson has dismissed the significance of such excursions.
He said: “They are only historic steps if you, yourself, have had obstacles to them in the past. I haven’t.”
The DUP man will welcome the Queen when she comes to Belfast next month.
At 27, he is only marginally older than his predecessor.
He holds a masters degree in Irish politics.
He said of the time ahead: “In politics you are driven to make a difference, so I hope that in whatever restricted or successful way, I will be able to do that.”
New Lord Mayor of Belfast Gavin Robinson says he is “east Belfast born, bred, buttered and battered”. The 27-year-old grew up in the shadow of Stormont. He started his working life aged 13 as a children’s entertainer in the nationalist lower Falls area. He has been a member of the DUP since 2003 and was elected to Belfast City Council in March 2010.
Young Mayors: “In years gone by people would have been elevated to the office of Lord Mayor at the end of their political career... but over the last number of years political parties and individuals have tended to make productive use of the office and try to harness the goodwill and support that the Lord Mayor’s office has had in the past.”
Niall O'Donnghaile: “Other mayors have pledged to be a first citizen of the city for all its residents and it is not for me to judge whether they have succeeded, but I hope people will judge me positively.”
Royal portraits: “I am working on the assumption that the parlour will be returned to the way Niall found it without having to issue a direction. I do not think the Irish Proclamation has any relevance to the city of Belfast... there is no Belfast connection to that part of history.”
Belfast: “I think we need to start boosting Belfast. The last year has been dominated by a push for tourism, but I think there is a real drive that needs to take place on the economy. Belfast was an industrial giant. We need to try to put Belfast back on the international stage that it once held.”
Review of public administration: “With an operating budget in the city of £160m a year, we do positively affect communities and environs within the city. The prospects of further devolved powers is exciting and something which the council is capable of making full use of.”