Sinn Fein lady Mayor in Dungannon

LOCAL government in Dungannon ushered in a new era this week, with Sinn Fein councillor, Michelle O'Neill, elected as the council's first ever female Mayor.

LOCAL government in Dungannon ushered in a new era last night, Monday, with Sinn Fein councillor, Michelle O'Neill, due to be elected as the council's first ever female Mayor.

The Torrent woman, who is assembly member for Mid-Ulster and Deputy Chair of the Stormont Health Committee, is one of only two lady councillors on Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council, which has 22 elected representatives.

A mother-of-two, Councillor O'Neill was first elected to the council in Dungannon in 2007, and is one of the youngest members in the chamber.

Her appointment as Mayor, which was expected to be ratified at last night's Annual General Meeting, was welcomed warmly by her party colleague and fellow Mid-Ulster MLA, Francie Molloy.

Cllr Molloy told the Tyrone Times he believed Michelle O'Neill's election as Mayor heralded a new outlook on politics in the Dungannon and South Tyrone area.

"Michelle is the first woman ever to hold the position of Mayor on the council, and she is also one of the youngest", said Cllr Molloy.

"Obviously Michelle's appointment will see a new focus on the council, through the issues that Michelle would want to highlight. She is Deputy Chair of the assembly Health Committee, and I believe we will see more focus on areas such as disabilities and women's issues."

According to Cllr Molloy, the new Mayor will continue to work towards fulfilling one of Sinn Fein's commitments to "open up" the council to members of the public.

He added: "I think Michelle's appointment as Mayor would certainly be an encouragement for more young people and women to become involved in politics, and, also, that it will act as proof that they can become involved in the top positions."

With uncertainty continuing around the issue of moving ahead with the 'super council' proposals contained within the Review of Public Administration (RPA), Cllr Molloy said he believes the current set-up in Dungannon will last for another four years.

"There is still the possibility that the RPA plans will go ahead", he told the Times.

"Dungannon Council have met to finalise their response to the suggestion by Edwin Poots that it should be the responsibility of the council to pay for the plans to come into force.

"Boundary issues around the areas of Lisburn and Dunmurry appear to be what are holding up the progress of RPA.

"It should certainly be up to central government, rather than local government, to pay for this. I think, in reality, that the council as it is will probably continue over another four years. There will likely be an election in 2011, at the same time as the assembly elections."