Sinn Fein’s Niall O Donnghaile became the youngest ever mayor of Belfast on Thursday night.
The 25-year-old who represents the small nationalist Short Strand enclave in east Belfast took the top post at a meeting of the council held last night.
Mr O Donnghaile previously acted as Sinn Fein’s press officer at Stormont. He is also the first mayor to have been educated in Irish-medium schools. He was elected to the Pottinger ward of east Belfast this month.
O Donnghaile is Sinn Fein’s third Belfast mayor. His appointment follows a row over the mayoral selection process, which for the first time used the d’Hondt power-sharing system already used at Stormont, and came after a last-ditch unionist bid to block the appointment was stopped by Sinn Fein, the nationalist SDLP and the cross-community Alliance Party.
The deputy mayoral post went to long-standing hardline unionist Ruth Patterson of the DUP, who immediately snubbed Mr O Donnghaile. The newly-elected Mayor offered his congratulations to Mrs Patterson but she did not acknowledge him.
“I wanted to wish her congratulations, it is unfortunate she refused to accept them,” Mr O Donnghaile said.
Mrs Patterson was not available, but in a statement, the DUP said it backed her stance.
FREE RUN FOR MASKEY
There was further good news for Sinn Fein when it emerged that republican political prisoner Marian Price is debarred from contesting the by-election to the Westminster seat.
The election was called for Thursday, 9 June, after Gerry Adams resigned and became a Sinn Fein TD in Louth.
Under British legislation dating from the 1981 hunger strike, prisoners serving a term of more than one year cannot stand for election.
Price, the secretary of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, was summarily imprisoned in Derry two weeks ago. British Direct Ruler Own Paterson said that her prison release licence, under which she was freed from jail 31 years ago, had been revoked.
As a consequence, Ms Price is not currently considered to be either a remand prison or an internee, circumstances which might have allowed her to seek election.
Sinn Fein candidate Paul Maskey is now almost certain to become the next MP for West Belfast.
Meanwhile, the Sinn Fein appointment of a former political prisoner, Mary McArdle, as a Stormont political adviser has generated unionist criticism for her role in the conflict.
Ms McArdle was involved in a Provisional IRA attack on Crown-appointed ‘Resident Magistrate’ Tom Travers in south Belfast in 1984. While Travers survived, his daughter, Mary died tragically when she was struck by a stray bullet.
Although a number of former prisoners hold Sinn Fein posts, the party’s new Minister for Culture Caral Ni Chuilin said that she and other colleagues had received death threats this week following “incendiary” reporting over the appointment of Mary McArdle as her advisor.
She said the focus of some media reports had “created the conditions in which attacks on Sinn Fein could take place”.
A Sinn Fein spokesman later said republicans were “very conscious of the hurt of relatives of those killed by the IRA during the conflict”.
“Our sympathies are obviously with families like the Travers. We do not intend to say or do anything which would cause further hurt to them.”