Belfast Telegraph

Rookie Sinn Fein councillor Orla (19) tipped to be Belfast mayor

By Rebecca Black

Could this baby-faced teenager be set to become Belfast's next First Citizen?

Speculation is growing at City Hall that Orla Nic Biorna (19) - who has been a councillor for just a few days - will be nominated by Sinn Fein as its choice for Lord Mayor next year.

The decision on who will take over from the Alliance Party's Nuala McAllister as Lord Mayor next June rests solely with Sinn Fein after the parties in Belfast City Council agreed several years ago to use the d'Hondt mechanism to decide which party's turn it should be for the top job.

Ms Nic Biorna officially became a councillor at the end of last week after being co-opted to replace veteran republican Janice Austin (66) in the Black Mountain district electoral area.

The teen is currently a student at St Mary's University College in west Belfast.

She is a former pupil of the Irish language school Colaiste Feirste, and has been a Sinn Fein activist since the age of 16.

A City Hall source said many were surprised to learn of the sudden departure of Ms Austin from the Sinn Fein benches earlier this month, adding that Ms Nic Biorna is regarded by Sinn Fein as a rising star.

Her fluency in the Irish language is understood to have pushed her into the front running among the 19 Sinn Fein councillors in Belfast while the party continues to press for an Irish Language Act at the talks to try to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

Previously, the youngest Lord Mayor to lead Belfast was Niall O Donnghaile, also of Sinn Fein, who was 25 years old when he took on the chain of office in 2011.

However, Mr O Donnghaile caused controversy during his term when he refused to present a Duke of Edinburgh award to a teenage army cadet. He also stepped aside from the role early to allow the DUP's Gavin Robinson to start his term sooner, as the Queen had planned a visit in June 2012 as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Mr O Donnghaile left Belfast City Council in 2016 after he was elected to the Irish Senate.

DUP councillor Guy Spence was the youngest person elected to Belfast City Council in 2011, and he went on to serve as Deputy Lord Mayor in 2015 when he was 23.

Last year, in England, the Labour Party's Terence Smith became Britain's youngest mayor at the age of 19 in Goole, east Yorkshire.

Writing in a blog post earlier this year, Ms Nic Biorna described belonging to a family of Irish speakers and even attended an Irish medium nursery school.

Ms Austin, the longest serving Sinn Fein councillor in the city, has been involved with the party for four decades.

She told the Andersonstown News earlier this month she is planning to enjoy her retirement and spend more time with her family, but will continue to be involved in republicanism.

Sinn Fein did not respond last night when asked to comment on this story.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Party is due to nominate the next Deputy Lord Mayor to take over from the UUP's Sonia Copeland.

Belfast City Council agreed in 2011 to start using the system of d'Hondt to allocate the top positions such as Lord Mayor, Deputy Lord Mayor and committee chairs based on the strength of numbers of each of the parties elected to the council.

However, the system is not universally popular, and sparked opposition at the time with some of the smaller parties claiming it favoured the larger parties on the council, and that its introduction was less beneficial for them.

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