Belfast’s deputy Lord Mayor has blamed a hearing difficulty for snubbing the city’s First Citizen on his election three weeks ago.
In her first full interview since taking office the DUP’s Ruth Patterson (55) claimed she was so surprised and overwhelmed by her nomination that she could not make out what Niall O Donnghaile (26) said when offering his congratulations.
“I have a hearing impediment,” she said.” I know some people will say ‘she’s only using this as an excuse’, but I’m not.
“Believe it or not, I did not expect to become deputy Lord Mayor. It was as much a surprise to me as anyone and whenever I went up and took my place beside him I knew that he was coming towards me. But what he said, I didn’t hear. I couldn’t make it out.
“At that stage the chief executive had handed me the declaration to sign. There was a lot going on at that time, and I think a bit of a mountain has been made out of a molehill.”
Mrs Patterson also refuted claims that she declined to shake the Lord Mayor’s hand.
“I know that some people out there are of the illusion that he offered me his hand to shake — that simply didn’t happen,” the grandmother-of-five added. Both the Lord Mayor and deputy Lord Mayor have been in position for almost a month. As yet, however, there has been no interaction or communication between them. The relationship is in contrast to the rapport shared by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.
“We have not had the opportunity to even bump into each other,” Mrs Patterson said.
Originally from Dungannon, she came to Belfast in the 1970s to train as a nurse in the Royal Victoria Hospital. In 1982 she joined the Ulster Defence Regiment because of a deep sense of duty to defend her country against the growing IRA threat.
“I joined the UDR to serve Queen and country,” she said. “At a time when my country needed me I was there. My country is as precious as my children.”
Her political career began in 2000 when she was appointed campaign manager for Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds during the 2001 Westminster election.
In the same year she was elected to represent the affluent Balmoral ward and has been a councillor for the past decade. She also works full-time as an administration officer for the Ulster Cancer Foundation.
Last week Mr O Donnghaile made history by becoming the first Sinn Fein Lord Mayor to visit the loyalist Shankill Road.
Mrs Patterson said she is also willing to extend the hand of friendship across the political divide — but has not yet received any invitations.
“I may be a very loyal Ulster Protestant but I am very respectful of other communities, whether they be from the nationalist community or ethnic minority community. And that’s part of my role as a civic dignitary,” she said.
“As for Niall, I don’t know this 26-year-old. I cannot say anything for or against him. But I will work with him exactly the same way I work with every other councillor — for the greater good of the city.”
Although she has yet to communicate directly with the Lord Mayor, Mrs Patterson has thrown down the gauntlet by asking whether he will attend a commemoration for the Battle of the Somme next month.
‘A bit of a mountain has been made out of a molehill’