Belfast Telegraph

Lord mayors mark end of council

Past and present lord mayors have marked the end of Belfast City Council.

Formed in 1973, the council, which was once the bastion of Ulster politics, is being replaced by the new super council which takes effect from April 1.

Current first citizen Nichola Mallon, said: "The contentious times we came through should not take away from the achievements of the various incarnations of the council, which played a pivotal role in bringing the city to where it is today.

"Belfast is now a city full of hope, full of ambition and with the potential to re-establish itself as a world class city."

Under the review of public administration the number of local authorities has been cut from 26 to 11 with e ach of the so-called super councils incorporating a larger geographical area and given increased powers including planning responsibilities.

During the early days and in the absence of any devolved Stormont Assembly, Belfast City Council was seen as the hub of politics in Northern Ireland.

Ironically dubbed the "Dome of Delight" when unionists dominated the chamber during the 1980s it was sometimes the scene of bitter exchanges and on occasion, the sectarian rows even spilled over into fist fights inside the chamber.

It was not until 2002 that a nationalist was appointed lord mayor with Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey becoming the first, followed by the SDLP's Martin Morgan a year later.

In 2012 sectarian tensions erupted again when a row over the decision to limit the number of days the Union flag flies over City Hall sparked rioting in some parts of Northern Ireland and is still the cause of weekly protests.

The council has played an integral part in bringing a host of major events, including the MTV European Music Awards, the Tall Ships and the Giro d'Italia, to Belfast.

Its contribution to the development of the Titanic Belfast museum has been hailed and the decision to build the Waterfront Hall in the late 1980s was widely praised as being the catalyst for the Lagan riverfront regeneration throughout the following decade.

Ms Mallon added: "The city, once renowned for shipbuilding and linen, is reinventing itself at the leading edge of technology, establishing itself as a location of choice for major film and television programme makers, and is matching cities on these islands with regard to attracting foreign direct investment.

"The council has worked in partnership with key agencies across the city to put itself in this position, and I have no doubt that the new Belfast City Council will carry on this work.

"Our city will continue to be transformed and developed, while holding on tightly to the unique history and heritage that makes us what we are."

Among those who attended the City Hall reception were Sinn Fein's Niall O'Donnghaile who became the youngest ever lord mayor in 2011, Naomi Long who is now an East Belfast MP but was lord mayor in 2009, Councillor Jim Rodgers who held the post twice in 2001 and 2007 as well as SDLP MLA Alban Maginness who was lord mayor in 1997.

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