End of an era in Belfast City Hall
Councillors say their goodbyes before new larger body comes into force
Belfast city councillors have said their final farewells ahead of the transfer of powers to a new, bigger local authority.
Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon described last night's council meeting in City Hall as an "historic occasion", but also one that was sad for many members.
After 42 years, the council is set to transfer to a larger body with more powers, including responsibility for planning decisions.
In total, 15 councillors left the 'Dome of Delight' for good after either failing to get elected to the new council or making the decision to stand down.
Addressing the chamber after 10 months as Lord Mayor, Ms Mallon said she has smiled every day she has been in office.
"As a Belfast girl born and bred, I have always been proud of our city," the SDLP woman said.
"Over the last 10 months that pride has deepened. As a city we have come a long way, and that is why I chose the theme 'Best of Belfast' for my year."
Ms Mallon received universal praise for her term as Lord Mayor, which included bringing a beach party to the grounds of City Hall.
Her outgoing deputy, Allliance's Maire Hendron, spoke of her pride at being part of the first all-female team at the top of council, one that included former High Sheriff Lydia Patterson (DUP) and council chief executive Suzanne Wylie.
"It sent the message that attitudes in the council are changing," she said.
Ms Hendron paid tribute to Ms Mallon for carrying out her duties with "dignity and in an upright manner", and "enhancing the reputation of the city".
She summed up her time as Deputy Lord Mayor as "very busy but satisfying".
DUP councillor Gavin Robinson said Belfast got to see "the real Nichola", adding she has been a "Lord Mayor of credit to the city".
PUP councillor John Kyle joked how he felt a recent Pancake Tuesday event Ms Mallon had organised reflected her personality.
"It was chaotic but fun, and that typified the Lord Mayor," he said.
Several of the councillors who will not return gave their final speeches.
DUP councillor Brian Kennedy said he felt the "sun is still rising on the potential for Belfast".
The SDLP's Colin Keenan said when he first entered City Hall he knew many of the members as councillors but now, as he left, he counted them as friends.
Ukip councillor Bob Stoker said he was disappointed not to be continuing, but quipped that now he can "sit on the sidelines and shout, and say it has gone downhill since I left".
The transfer of powers takes place at midnight tonight. The first meeting of the new Belfast City Council is tomorrow evening.