Eyebrows raised over Northern Ireland councillors 'Rose of Tralee' reference
A councillor has said if there was a "Rose of Tralee-type pageant for mayor and deputy mayor" then Mid and East Antrim Council "would win by a country mile".
Independent Paul Maguire made the comment as he congratulated the borough's new first citizen Lindsay Millar (UUP) and her deputy Cheryl Johnston (DUP) on recently taking up their posts.
He wished the women - both aged 26 - well for the rest of the year.
The mayor and her deputy both have links to Carrickfergus and went to school together. Both have degrees - Ms Millar in politics and Ms Johnston in sociology and criminology.
Mr Maguire said: "I hope I'm not in breach of a code of conduct, but can I say if there was a Rose of Tralee-type pageant for mayor and deputy mayor we would win by a country mile, and that is no disrespect to councillor Paul Reid, our outgoing mayor, who cut a very fine figure of a man himself."
The comments were made at the full monthly meeting of the council.
At the same meeting, former DUP mayor Billy Ashe thanked Ms Millar for her congratulations after he was recently awarded an MBE.
He said: "I would like to thank you for your big hug and kiss that you give me.
"You weren't the only one that did that there.
"Alderman (May) Beattie did it as well and it immediately took me back to my childhood days and music started ringing in my ears and the words of that good old song came to mind - 'It was old but it was beautiful'."
Asked if she had taken any offence over Mr Maguire's remarks, the mayor said "no".
She added: "I have never actually watched the Rose of Tralee, but I knew that it wasn't a beauty pageant.
"I Googled it and read that the title is awarded based on their personality and appropriateness to be an ambassador.
"To me, I wasn't offended in the slightest by the remarks.
"Mr Maguire missed the meeting when I was actually made mayor but he sent me a very kind email the day afterwards.
"I don't believe that his comments were anything but well meaning."
The deputy mayor was also contacted for a response, but has yet to comment.
However, Green Party MLA Clare Bailey responded to the Rose of Tralee comments, saying: "This is probably a case of councillor Maguire seeking some attention, so I hope the thorns don't snag him!
"But, these comments should be taken as a sign that the council would be wise to invest in some gender training for representatives. In the centenary year of women's partial suffrage, that would be money well spent."
The Rose of Tralee Festival will celebrate its 59th year next month. Every year young women of Irish descent travel from across the world to Co Kerry for the chance to be named as the Rose.
The organisers have distanced themselves from references to beauty pageants, marketing it instead as a celebration of women.
But for many across Ireland, its clear inspiration for the 'Lovely Girls' contest in Channel 4 comedy Father Ted is a reputation hard to shake off.
Junior doctor Jennifer Byrne (24) from Offaly won the competition last year and insisted those references were out of date.
"It's a group of young people together celebrating and having the craic, celebrating Irish culture and Irish heritage and there's nothing outdated about that. All of the Roses are very modern women," she said.