The first black councillor to be elected in Northern Ireland has said she hopes her victory will inspire other people from ethnic minority backgrounds to stand for election.
Lilian Seenoi-Barr said it was an “historic moment” and wanted to thank voters “for their support and their belief and really looking beyond the colour of someone’s skin and looking at hard work and what somebody can bring to the table”.
She added: “Yes, it has taken a lot of time. Obviously we cannot forget that the North of Ireland is a post-conflict society, it has a lot of its own challenges and sometimes the issues of minoritised people are forgotten, and I think this is why representation absolutely matters.”
Ms Seenoi-Barr was elected for the SDLP in the Foyleside District Electoral Area (DEA) in Derry City and Strabane District Council. The director of programmes for the North-West Migrants Forum in Derry, she previously stood unsuccessfully for election for the party in 2019, but was co-opted onto the council in 2021.
It is believed to be the first time a black politician has been elected to public office in Northern Ireland.
“I hope my election services as an inspiration for individuals from all backgrounds to step forward and serve their community, but particularly to the wide range of minority ethnic people who have skills and have so much to give, but may be afraid because of the divisions and the politics of dysfunction in Northern Ireland, and the fear of being abused or the fear of racism,” Ms Seenoi-Barr told The Irish Times.
I hope my election services as an inspiration for individuals from all backgrounds to step forward and serve their community
She said tackling racism and incidents such as the blockade in Co Clare of a facility housing asylum seekers were “a challenge for the whole of society”, but urged people from ethnic minority backgrounds who want to contribute to their community “not to be deterred by the racial slurs that they hear . . . they get that fear because there are demonstrations against people seeking safety in our community”.
She added: “It is our duty to provide sanctuary and to continue building a tolerant society,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, 18-year-old Lewis Boyle also made history by becoming the North’s youngest ever councillor.
Mr Boyle, a school pupil from Randalstown, Co Antrim who is due to sit his A levels this week, was elected in the Ballyclare DEA for the Alliance Party.
He said his family and friends were “all very pleased” and helped him to celebrate his election success, particularly his younger siblings who “thought it was great, they’re all running round calling me Councillor now”.
Mr Boyle said he hoped to bring a “new perspective” to a council where, “prior to the election, 30 per cent of the population of Antrim and Newtownabbey was under the age of 25, yet there were no councillors from that age demographic”.
He continued: “That’s a huge segment of the population whose views weren’t being represented. Climate is one of the biggest crises of our generation, so those new perspectives are very important to have.”