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10 June 2004 Edition

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Mayors and Chairs

Gearóid Ó hEára, flanked by party colleagues, talks to the media after being elected Mayor of Derry

Gearóid Ó hEára, flanked by party colleagues, talks to the media after being elected Mayor of Derry

Sinn Féin Councillor Gearóid Ó hEára has been elected Mayor of Derry only a week after Councillor Joe O'Donnell was elected as Deputy Mayor of Belfast.

Ó hEára was elected to the top council post during a meeting of the city council on Monday.

In his acceptance speech, Ó hEára said he would make "equality the cornerstone of his tenure" and appealed directly to unionist councillors for their co-operation.

The new Mayor said he would invite members of a number of organisations — including the Bloody Sunday Trust and the British Legion — to discuss the concept of civic remembrance.

He said this would commemorate "everyone who has died as a result of conflict from or within this council area".

Ó hEára also said that Derry was the gateway to, and capital of the Northwest and that he would endeavour during his year in office to "focus attention on the major infrastructural issues which mitigate against the future development of Derry as the hub of the region".

However, the man elected to the post of Deputy Mayor, Joe Miller of the Democratic Unionist Party, said he would not co-operate with the new first citizen.

Miller, a former RUC officer, told the chamber: "When this meeting is over, I will have nothing to do with you or your party." He then accused Ó hEara of trying a "charm offensive" with unionism.

Chairs in Omagh, Strabane and Fermanagh

Similar events took place on Omagh District Council this week, when one of the longest serving members of the council, Sinn Féin's Seán Clarke, was elected chairperson. However, like in Derry, the newly-elected DUP Vice-Chair Tom Buchanan has refused to take his seat at the top table beside the Sinn Féin Mayor.

The council is predominantly made up of nationalists, however it has implemented the d'Hondt principles which means unionist and nationalist chairs and vice chairs are elected.

In fact, outgoing chair Alan Rainey, a member of the UUP, made a most gracious speech as he stepped down.

Clarke in his acceptance speech, thanked Rainey for his time as chairperson, commenting particularly on his welcome for the Tyrone Sam McGuire winners last year and his attendance at the football final and the Special Olympics in Croke Park.

Also this week, Jarlath McNulty was elected chair of Strabane District Council, where Sinn Féin is currently the largest party. He replaced Ulster Unionist James Emery in the top post. SDLP Councillor Ann Bell was elected vice chair, replacing Sinn Féin's Brian McMahon.

Gerry McHugh is the new chairperson of Fermanagh District Council, after being elected at its Annual General Meeting on Monday 7 June.

The election of the Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture and that of the vice chairman SDLP's John O'Kane followed an agreement in the Chamber in 2001 for the equitable rotation of the top two seats.

McHugh told the meeting that he intends to promote the needs of everyone in Fermanagh. He said he wants to progress issues that are of vital importance, not least the hospital issue and retention of services.

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