History making Derry first citizen vows to be a mayor for all

Londonderry’s history-making first citizen Lilian Seenoi-Barr has vowed to be a mayor for all.

The SDLP representative became the first black mayor of a council in Northern Ireland on Monday night when she accepted the Derry City and Strabane District mayoral chain from her predecessor Patricia Logue.

The 42-year-old, originally from Kenya, described herself as a “Maasai woman and a Derry girl”.

Addressing the council chamber, Ms Seenoi-Barr thanked those who travelled from Kenya for an “historic moment for Derry”, adding their presence “signifies the unity and shared pride between our communities”.

Good Friday Agreement 25th Anniversary
Lilian Seenoi-Barr (Liam McBurney/PA)

“Many of you know that I am deeply proud of my Maasai heritage, rich with culture and tradition.

“Growing up as one of 14 siblings in a Maasai village, I was nurtured in a home filled with love, unity, hard work and commitment to justice and freedom – values I carry forward into my service,” she said.

“But my story, becoming both a Maasai woman and a Derry girl, began back in 2010 when I came to this city in search of safety and for a better life.

“If you had told me then that I would be seated here today as the mayor of the north’s second city, I don’t think I, or anybody in my family would have believed you.

“Since I arrived Derry has embraced me, it has granted me a family, a community and now the honour of serving as your first citizen.”

Ms Seenoi-Barr previously made history last year when she became the first black person to be elected to public office in Northern Ireland.

Since her selection was announced, she said she has been subjected to racist abuse and death threats.

But she said that while the threats have been hurtful, she has also had enormous support across the island from community organisations and politicians who have stood in solidarity.

Ms Seenoi-Barr also said: “Of course there are some in recent weeks who have seen this history making moment as a threat and it is no secret that it has provoked anti immigrant sentiments.

“That has been a reminder of the issues we face as a community, but I know that those sentiments find no home in Derry and they were not reflected by most people in our city and district.

“Instead, since I was appointed, I have witnessed the warmth and kindness of the Derry that I know and love with all my heart.

“The Ireland that I know and the Derry where I have built my home is a welcoming and generous place where everyone, regardless of their background, can thrive.

“My appointment is a sign of celebration of difference, of a changing Northern Ireland, one where the binaries of the past are breaking down.

“We are no longer just green and orange, and we have a chance to make new choices and build a new united community.

“I will not be deterred from working as hard as I can for my entire community.

“I will be a mayor for everyone, one who will be accessible and one who will lead with hope.

“The significance of this moment is not lost on me.

“This role presents an opportunity of a lifetime and I will approach it with the utmost seriousness and dedication.”

Ulster Unionist Party councillor Darren Guy was nominated as deputy mayor.

Meanwhile there was also history at two other councils in the region on Monday.

The new Belfast Lord Mayor Micky Murray described himself as the first openly gay mayor of Northern Ireland’s capital when he was installed, while Pete Byrne (SDLP) became the first openly LGBT+ chairman of Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

Mr Murray, 32, has been an Alliance councillor since 2022.

He said: “As the city’s first openly gay Lord Mayor, I want Belfast to be a place where everyone feels welcomed and included.

“A more inclusive, diverse and kinder city makes it better for everyone.

“I’m looking forward to meeting with groups and organisations city-wide who are working to achieve these goals and to using my time as Lord Mayor to highlight their work and showcase all that is good within our city.”