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Nationalists will have a voice in NI's centenary events, vows Belfast's new DUP Lord Mayor

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New Belfast Lord Mayor Frank McCoubrey with grandchildren Jensen and Isla

New Belfast Lord Mayor Frank McCoubrey with grandchildren Jensen and Isla

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

New Belfast Lord Mayor Frank McCoubrey with grandchildren Jensen and Isla

Belfast's new Lord Mayor has pledged that he will reach out to ensure nationalists have "a role and a voice" in Northern Ireland's centenary events.

The DUP's Frank McCoubrey said he was delighted as "a proud unionist" that he would be the city's first citizen for the 2021 anniversary of the formation of the state.

But he said that everyone should have a part to play in the centenary celebrations.

The coronavirus crisis meant the usual traditions were abandoned as Mr McCoubrey was installed as Lord Mayor in City Hall on Monday night.

His predecessor, Danny Baker, did not place the chain of office around Mr McCoubrey's shoulders; rather the DUP councillor removed it from a plinth and did so himself.

There were no handshakes from fellow councillors but a round of applause was led by council chief executive Suzanne Wylie.

The new Lord Mayor's daughters, Nichola and Stephanie, grandchildren Isla and Jensen, and brother Bill were in the public gallery.

But Covid-19 restrictions meant that his 76-year-old mother, Elizabeth, was forced to watch the ceremony online from home.

Councillors united to extend their good wishes to Mr McCoubrey for his year in office.

Sinn Fein group leader Ciaran Beattie described him as a "grounded working-class person".

As the city grapples with the coronavirus crisis, it was vital that the Lord Mayor was someone who understood that those in deprived areas were being hardest hit, he said.

Progressive Unionist Party councillor John Kyle said Mr McCoubrey was known across the city for his "hard, diligent work" and that people from the new Lord Mayor's native Shankill were immensely proud of him.

Mr McCoubrey said: "It is a privilege and honour for me as a working-class unionist, who has represented working-class areas for 24 years, to be given this opportunity.

"Communities across Belfast have demonstrated the true spirit of the city throughout this ongoing pandemic, and I have seen first-hand how people are helping their neighbours, and are supporting one another."

He continued: "It is my hope that there is a ray of light at the end of this, where people and communities will build on this spirit of cooperation and go on to build a better Belfast for future generations.

"We are a resilient people and a resilient city, and we will get through this together."

The new Lord Mayor paid tribute to frontline workers in hospitals, care homes, and those providing council services.

"Many individuals and groups have made such a difference throughout our city, looking after the most vulnerable day after day," he said.

"They are what makes this city what it is, and we should be eternally grateful to those who have stepped up."

He paid tribute to those here who had died from Covid-19.

"During my term I will make it my priority to determine how we can best remember those who have lost their lives, to offer a place of remembrance and tribute," he said.

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Mr McCoubrey's deputy Paul McCusker

Mr McCoubrey's deputy Paul McCusker

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Mr McCoubrey's deputy Paul McCusker

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker, who was installed as Deputy Lord Mayor, also paid tribute to the "unsung heroes" - singling out health and care staff, post office workers, and supermarket staff - who were putting their lives on the line every day to help people.

He said he did not know Mr McCoubrey well but, as a nurse in the Mater, he had heard colleagues from the Shankill praise him as "someone who made a difference" over the years.

SDLP group leader Donal Lyons noted that Mr McCoubrey previously had held the positions of both Deputy Lord Mayor and High Sheriff.

He joked that there could be an "award for doing the triple - getting all three chains in one council career".

He welcomed the Lord Mayor's commitment to work for every citizen in the city.

Alliance group leader Michael Long said that as someone who had provided "great service" to his Shankill constituents and had a record of working cooperatively, Mr McCoubrey was well-placed to tackle the Covid-19 challenges facing Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph