Fellow Councillors, Council Officers, Members of the local media, Friends,
It is a great privilege and honour to be appointed Lord Mayor of Armagh City and District Council.
I was first elected as member of Armagh City and District Council back in 2005, 7 years ago. I started out as young and determined woman committed to serving my community and hoping to play my part in building a better way of life for all people in this district. Its been a great seven years, its been a lot of hard work but it’s really worth it when I see the difference I’ve made to one life, or to a family, to community or the whole district. I am humbled to have been chosen by the community to be their representative and I know that they too will share in my pride and honour this evening, as I become Lord Mayor.
For those of you, who know me well; know that I am very proud of who I am and where I come from. I am a proud Irish woman, I am an ardent Armagh Gael, I am a passionate Granemore woman and I am very proud of my roots being born and reared in Clady. And most recently I have developed an affiliation to Madden and its people. So for me, becoming First Citizen of the City and District that I love so well, the place that I call home, is the greatest honour that could every be bestowed on me.
I will be a Lord Mayor for all people – whether you live in our beautiful City, or a resident of one of our towns, or, if like me, you’re a rural country dweller – then I will be your Lord Mayor. And I will be humbled to represent you as First Citizen of this District. Likewise, I will be a Lord Mayor of all people, regardless of religious or political belief, regardless of social background, regardless of whether you are young and old. I will give my word to be the Lord Mayor for everyone and for all that our City and District has to offer.
I am so excited to get started my year in office, its promises to be an interesting and big year for me.
My key priority for the year ahead is to raise Armagh. To raise Armagh by developing our prosperity, by building true reconciliation, by securing social justice for all, by recognising and celebrating our achievements and many talents, and by inspiring all our citizens to play their parts in building a better future for Armagh.
We must work hard to ensure social justice for all and as Lord Mayor I will stand up for the most vulnerable in our society – those who rely on benefits, not because they want to, but because they have to and I ask my fellow councillors to join me in opposing the draconian elements of welfare reform.
Prosperity and Economy
There is no doubt, that far too many of our citizens are living hard times. We have far too many families crippled by debt, far too many young and bright students graduating with little of no hope of finding a job or professional development, far too many men, young and old, leaving our land to make a living in Scotland, England, America and some as far away as Australia. There are far too many elderly people who have to choose between food or fuel. There are far too many local businesses going out of business. We are living in hard times, the hardest times my generation has had to live through.
As Civic Leaders of this City and District, we have a duty to all work together to build prosperity and secure social justice. We must do what we can to secure Armagh jobs but we must do more, we must play our part in job creation. We must support new businesses which want to set up in our district, we must support our local existing businesses to grow and develop. We can do that by developing an economic masterplan for this City and District and as Lord Mayor I will set up a taskforce, made up not only of local councillors but also with local trade, tourism and business representatives. This taskforce will drive the development of our local economy, identify gaps and challenges and recommend measures which this council can put in place or lobby our locally elected Assembly. That may mean finding the means for bringing derelict buildings back to life, reassessing the commercial rates and ensuring value for money, supporting planning applications which have significant economic benefit. There are many ways we can improve our economy and build lasting prosperity and during my year as Lord Mayor I will keep the economy top of the agenda.
These hard times that we’re living in sometimes overshadow how far we have come as society from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. That progress and that absolute change should never be forgotten. Our broken community in the north of Ireland mends a little everyday. And as First Citizen of this district I believe it is my duty everyday to continue that reconciliation so that lasting peace is secured for generations to come.
Many of you will know my story, and will know how my plea for peace, the plea of a schoolgirl 17 years ago, touched the heart of the most powerful man in the world – the President of the United States. He shared that plea with people everywhere not only across Ireland but across the world. That desire for peace, reconciliation and a better way of life has never dimmed in my heart. Through my work as a political and community representative I have been able to bring communities together, I have worked very well with my (Unionist) colleagues on this side of the chamber to deliver services and facilities for both communities. I had to deal with cultural and religious sensitivities and I hope that I’ve been able to do that with respect. And as First Citizen I hope to cross the boundaries of the community I come from and to learn about other cultures and raise awareness of the importance of respect, regardless of whether we agree or not.
As Lord Mayor I will meet the Armagh Church Forum to support their work in reconciliation and to help them bring together all sections of the religious divide. I also hope to work with local sporting organisations to use sport as a tool for reconciliation among our young people. I will encourage cultural organisations to work together to bring about more cross cultural events which will help break down barriers through song and dance. There will be many opportunities as Lord Mayor for me to show leadership in reconciliation and I hope that my words and actions will inspire many others to respect different cultures and religions, and in doing so will help secure the lasting peace we so deserve.
As you are all aware in recent weeks, Armagh City and District has been granted Lord Mayoralty. This can be a significant boost to Armagh’s tourism and economy, if we promote this in the right way. We now join Belfast, Dublin and Cork in holding the office of Lord Mayor in Ireland. It is a huge honour for Armagh to be put in the same ranks as these three cities. As Lord Mayor I will set up a high level Forum made up of the Lord Mayors and Chief Executives from Belfast, Dublin, Cork and ourselves here in Armagh so that we can work together for the betterment of tourism, the economy and cross border relations. I have no doubt this link up will help build prosperity and reconciliation.
But the greatest asset Armagh has is – its people and as First Citizen I will celebrate and recognise the achievements and talents of all our people. As Chairperson of the Corporate Affairs Committee last year, I was always very keen that homemade talent in Armagh would be recognised in all events ran by the council. From this the ‘Made in Armagh’ initiative was born, whereby Council promotes local artists and as Lord Mayor I hope to build this initiative across all sections of our communities to include sport, science and the arts.
Our local achievers are inspiration to the citizens of this district and as Civic Leaders we have a duty to recognise the skills and talents of those who achieve highly and raise them up to become homegrown ambassadors for Armagh City and District.
My final priority is to inspire people to play their full part in civic society, especially our young people. This is something that I have been working for since I was 17 years old. President Bill Clinton gave an extraordinary opportunity to a very ordinary schoolgirl when he offered to share his platform with me at the Gathering of Peace on the Mall in Armagh back in 1998. He gave me a platform to express my views and vision for a better Ireland. It was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an honour that I never could imagined. And it was then John Hume and Seamus Mallon who challenged me to play my part in building the future that I had told the world that I so dearly wanted. They inspired me to play my full part in building a new future and now I hope that my story and my year as First Citizen of Armagh City and District will inspire many ordinary people to do something extraordinary and play their part in building a better way of life for Armagh.
Out-going Mayor and Deputy
I congratulate and commend the outgoing Lord Mayor Cllr Freda Donnelly from the DUP and her Deputy Cllr Mealla Campbell from my own party the SDLP. I believe both women have carried out their roles with great respect, dignity and inspiration and I wish them well in the future.
Welcoming Deputy Mayor
I also congratulate and welcome on board my Deputy Cllr Sylvia McRoberts of the UUP. I have no doubt Sylvia and I will work well together and its great to have two women leading this council.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my Party – the SDLP – for putting me forward for this position and I’d like to thank our Group Leader Cllr Thomas O’Hanlon and the SDLP group for their ongoing support. I’d also like to thank the Markethill Branch of the SDLP for their great support over the years and I know they will all be very happy this evening at news of my appointment and will no doubt spare a wee thought for my predecessor the late Tom Cavanan and his time as Mayor. I learnt a lot of Tom and I’m sure his words of advice will come to mind throughout my year as Lord Mayor.
I also thank the Ulster Council of the GAA for their full support as I take up this appointment.
Finally, to thank the most important people in life – my parents – Seamus and Anne, and my brothers Declan and Eamonn and my sisters Tracey and Denise. I know they are all very proud tonight and I look forward to enjoying the year ahead with their advice and support.
A big thank you also, to the man at the back of the room, my fiancé Gerard Grimley for his love, encouragement and support. I think he’s more nervous than I am taking up this position – because after all by the end of the year he’ll be married to the Lord Mayor of Armagh, now that’s daunting!
I very much look forward to an exciting year ahead, I look forward to meeting many people, to making new friends and hopefully to welcoming back some old friends to this City.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir