Belfast Telegraph

Kids' entertainer, barrister, Belfast Lord Mayor and now a rubbish collector...

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

They say politicians don’t like to get their hands dirty but Belfast’s new Lord Mayor has tried to debunk that myth.

Gavin Robinson — a qualified barrister and former special advisor to the First Minister — has been on a mission to show he has the common touch.

So, he packed away the shiny gold chain, swapped his ceremonial robe for fluorescent yellow plastic trousers and embarked on a hard day’s graft with his city’s refuse collectors.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, which was invited along, Mr Robinson said: “Whilst one day with our waste team only provides a snapshot of the council's many functions I hope to experience others during the course of my year and gain an insight into how Belfast really works.”

His eight-hour shift started with a safety briefing and training session at around 8am on Thursday. Then, it was straight out on to the affluent avenues of BT9 where the 27-year-old DUP man found himself emptying bins belonging to former Bar Library colleagues who came out to chat.

Mr Robinson was teamed up with black bin crew Harry Clugston, Stephen Hughes and Jason Gonsalves who between them have an impressive 63 years’ service to Belfast City Council.

And, while there was plenty of banter along the route, the gang did not give their VIP colleague much chance to shirk his duties.

“We get marked down if we don’t have the bins back in the right place. We don’t want any of them causing an obstruction,” said Mr Clugston.

“I think it’s great that he has come out with us. It’s nice that he has come out to see what we do.”

It was Mr Robinson’s first day back after a week-long holiday in Italy. And, although it was not the most glamorous of engagements he did appear to be relishing the physical challenge.

“This is back to earth with a bump,” he quipped while hauling a wheelie bin on to the lorry.

“This one was particularly whiffy. But, to be honest it’s good craic,” he added.

At 6ft 4ins tall and dressed in yellow he was hard to miss. And, his presence generated a bit of a flurry on the streets particularly around the Sandy Row area where former binman Martin Edgeworth said he was surprised to see a politician “actually working”.

“Fair play to him,” Mr Edgeworth added.

“As a former binman myself, I am glad to see that the Lord Mayor of our city is prepared to come out with the workers.

“It’s not an easy job and it is one that you do not get credit for. So, good for him for getting out.”

William Crainey, another Sandy Row resident, said: “I think it’s great to see. It’s nice that the Lord Mayor doesn’t think he’s too good to come out and do our bins.”

This is the first time any First Citizen has joined the council’s cleaning crews. It is the first part of a concerted effort to gain first hand experience of the challenges facing frontline council staff.

Peter Lamb, who lives on Lancefield Street just off the Lisburn Road, said: “I think it is fantastic. It shows good community spirit.”

But, not everyone was impressed. One resident of the Village area who declined to be named, said: “It’s all a publicity stunt. Why doesn’t he come out and do the bins every week?”

After his shift, Mr Robinson had to scrub down and don his Sunday best again — for a night at the Opera House. Such is the variety of being Lord Mayor.

Profile

DUP man Gavin Robinson was appointed Lord Mayor in June. He was elected to Belfast City Council in 2010. The 27-year-old from east Belfast grew up in the shadow of Stormont and is being tipped as a future MP for the area. He started working aged 13 as a children's entertainer.

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