Councillor Maolíosa McHugh elected first male mayor of Derry and Strabane

Maolosa McHugh.
Maolosa McHugh.

Castlederg-based Sinn Féin Councillor Maolíosa McHugh has been elected the third mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, the first man to hold the first citizenship.

His deputy will be SDLP Councillor John Boyle.

Colr. McHugh accepted the chain of office on Monday evening after being nominated by his nephew, Colr. Ruairí McHugh, who is also a representative of the Derg District Electoral Area (DEA).

Colr. McHugh, an Irish language enthusiast and former essential skills coordinator at the 'Tech' on the Strand Road, was first elected to Strabane District Council in 2011, before being elected to the new Derry City and Strabane District Council in 2014.

He was Presiding Councillor of DCSDC in 2014/15 while the new authority shadowed the outgoing Derry City and Strabane District councils in their final years.

He is the brother of the late, long-standing former Strabane District councillor Charlie McHugh, who died suddenly in 2008 after having served in the Derg area from 1985.

Charlie McHugh's son, Colr. Ruairí McHugh, nominating his uncle for the position, with members of their family and party supporters watching on from the public gallery, including the former West Tyrone MP and senior Sinn Féiner Pat Doherty, described him as someone who had excelled as a teacher at the Derry 'Tech', and as a promoter of the Irish language and Gaelscoileanna in the area.

"I just wish Charlie McHugh was here to witness his wee brother take on the role," he said, referring to his late father.

The new Mayor said he was "honoured and privileged" to take on the role at a time of "huge social and political change" for the North West, which he identified as the entire Derry, Tyrone and Donegal area.

Colr. McHugh pledged to work with his counterparts in Donegal to bring the weight of influence of a North Western population of 300,000 citizens to bear on regional and national governments.

He identified Brexit as the "greatest challenge" facing the district at present, and said the council needed to reinforce the existing "strong bonds with Donegal", and to put appropriate structures in place to attract investment to the wider area.

He pointed to the successful cross-border "partnership working" that has assisted in the establishment and operation of the new radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin and City of Derry Airport.

The new mayor said the necessary road infrastructure to the North West needed to be developed to encourage Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and support indigenous employers and businesses.

Colr. McHugh said he would work tirelessly to promote inward investment and economic growth as first citizen so that "young people can live and work at home".

A former jobs skills advisor at the 'Tech', Colr. McHugh said he was acutely aware of the "corrosive effect a lack of opportunity has on society".

"The lack of opportunity and hope can manifest itself in drug and alcohol abuse," he said.

With this in mind he said he was nominating Aware Defeat Depression as his mayoral charity for the year.

A champion of the Irish language, the new mayor said: "I hope to promote the language and show that it is there to be shared."

He said understanding of the Irish language gave people an understanding of both "yourself and others".

And in reference to the challenges and opportunities that are likely to present themselves in the year ahead, he remarked, "ní neart go cur le chéile", which, in Irish, means, "we're stronger together".

Former Derry mayor, Colr. Martin Reilly, nominating Colr. Boyle for the deputy role, said he took great pleasure in the proposal, observing that the Foyle Springs man had been active in the SDLP since his teens.

Colr. Boyle was elected to the old Derry City Council for Northland in 2011, and was returned to the new Derry City and Strabane Council as a Foyleside DEA councillor in 2014.

Over the past year he has served as chair of the council's Planning Committee.

Accepting the nomination for Deputy Mayor, Colr. Boyle said he looked forward to working with the new mayor in the year ahead and that, given his track record as Presiding Councillor in 2014/15, he was sure he would serve as a fair and respectful first citizen.

The new Deputy Mayor also identified Brexit as the issue that "looms largest" on the horizon locally and that it, and other issues, could only be addressed if people worked respectfully together.

He pledged his support for all the citizens of the city and district.

Colr. McHugh will be the first male first citizen, of the Derry City area at least, since former Derry City Council SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly's mayoralty in 2013/14 and his own chairmanship of the shadow council in 2014/15.

He follows in the footsteps of an unprecedented succession of Derry women, Brenda Stevenson of the SDLP (Derry City Council; 2014), and the first two mayors of the new council, Elisha McCallion of Sinn Féin (2015/16) and Hilary McClintock of the DUP (2016/17), the latter of whom stood down tonight.

Meanwhile, Paul Fleming of Sinn Féin will chair the council's Governance and Strategic Planning Committee, with Brian Tierney of the SDLP serving as deputy.

The council's Planning Committee will be chaired by Sinn Féin's Dan Kelly, with the DUP's Thomas Kerrigan deputising.

Sinn Féin's Eric McGinley will preside at Assurance, Audit and Risk Committee meetings in the year ahead; Jim McKeever of the SDLP will be deputy chair.

Stewardship of Business and Culture meetings falls to Patricia Logue of Sinn Féin, with Derek Hussey of the UUP acting in her absence.

Environment and Regeneration will be chaired by the SDLP's Angela Dobbins, with David Ramsey of the DUP stepping in when she's not around.

Health and Community Committee meetings will be chaired by Drew Thompson of the DUP, with Sinn Féin's Ruairí McHugh acting as his deputy.