'The significance of this moment is not lost on me': Derry & Strabane Mayor Lilian Seenoi-Barr

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The following is the speech made by Derry City & Strabane District Council’s new Mayor Lilian Seenoi-Barr at the AGM on Monday night.

Can I start by thanking the outgoing mayor, Patricia Logue, for her service this year. Patricia is an extremely hard-working councillor who has a real passion for the Derry and Strabane District Council area. During her 12 months as First Citizen she has travelled far and wide, displaying a great energy and commitment to the role. I wish her all the best for the future.

Can I also say that I am deeply grateful to my SDLP family for their unwavering support. I also want to recognise the presence of my family members from both Derry and Kenya as well as those who have travelled from far and near to witness this moment. In particular I want to acknowledge my husband Paul, without whom I would never have been able to accept this role. Paul has been an absolute rock in my life. While the saying goes that behind every successful man is a strong woman, behind this woman stands a patient, thoughtful, and kind man who would give the world to see me happy and achieve my goals.

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I am incredibly grateful for the love and care you have shown both to myself and our Brian. Your unwavering support has made it so much easier for me to step into my role as a councillor and now as the first citizen of Derry and Strabane District. Thank you, Honey, for being my steadfast partner and for believing in me every step of the way.

SDLP Colr Lilian Seenoi-Barr, newly elected mayor of Derry and Strabane, pictured with the High Commissioner to the UK, Ambassador Manoah Esipisu, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP, her husband Patrick and a delegation of leaders from Kenya. Photo: George Sweeney.SDLP Colr Lilian Seenoi-Barr, newly elected mayor of Derry and Strabane, pictured with the High Commissioner to the UK, Ambassador Manoah Esipisu, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP, her husband Patrick and a delegation of leaders from Kenya. Photo: George Sweeney.
SDLP Colr Lilian Seenoi-Barr, newly elected mayor of Derry and Strabane, pictured with the High Commissioner to the UK, Ambassador Manoah Esipisu, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP, her husband Patrick and a delegation of leaders from Kenya. Photo: George Sweeney.

I also want to extend a heartfelt welcome and my deepest gratitude to the Kenyan government dignitaries who have travelled all the way to witness this historic moment for Derry. Your presence here signifies the unity and shared pride between our communities. Thank you for joining us and being part of this remarkable journey. And as someone with a deep faith, I would also like to give thanks to God for this moment.

Many of you know I am deeply proud of my Maasai heritage, rich with culture and tradition. Growing up as one of fourteen siblings, in the small village in Narok County known as Ollombokishi, 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. But as all of you know, my story in becoming both a Maasai woman and a Derry girl began back in 2010, when I came to this city in search of safety and 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 to serve as your First Citizen. 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 and intense abuse. 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 have loved with all my heart, through the kindness of strangers and the outpouring of solidarity and support. The Ireland I know, and the Derry where I built my home, is a welcoming and generous place where anyone, regardless of their background, can thrive.

This is a city steeped in social justice, progress and protest in support of rights for all of our citizens. It is a place that makes history, for the betterment of all. We follow in the footsteps of giants in this city. Giants including John Hume who once said, "Difference is the essence of humanity, an accident of birth." My appointment is a sign of that 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, in all of our diversity.

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Councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr from the SDLP who is the new Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council. Picture Martin McKeown. 03.06.24Councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr from the SDLP who is the new Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council. Picture Martin McKeown. 03.06.24
Councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr from the SDLP who is the new Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council. Picture Martin McKeown. 03.06.24

So 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 is 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 approach it with the utmost seriousness and dedication. This is why I have chosen BUD's Club as my charity of the year; a full-time youth-led educational and developmental youth provision, serving our young people across the city and district. BUD's Club works with young people with disabilities aged 11-25 years old, providing them with a safe, fun, and inclusive environment to engage and foster positive relationships.

Alongside the tea dances, I will introduce the Mayor’s Youth Network, a bi-monthly initiative designed to inspire our young people to assume leadership positions and prioritise their mental health and well-being.

This programme, inspired by our successful tea dances for older adults, will provide young people with opportunities to enjoy music, dancing, and entertainment. More importantly, it will create a supportive and informal setting where we can encourage open conversations about mental health.

This is the mayor I want to be, one that ensures no one is left behind and that the next generation has more opportunities than the last.

I pledge to work constructively with each one of you, but I also pledge to be firm and bold, ensuring that the business of this chamber is conducted fairly and respectfully.

As your Mayor, I pledge to lead with ambition to drive real change, ensuring that all voices within our vibrant community are heard and represented.

My commitment is to work tirelessly, focusing on unity, growth, and the common good. If we unite, we can work towards ending poverty, attracting investment in our city and district, supporting our young people to achieve their full potential, creating good quality jobs, advocating for quality affordable homes, helping to end the long waiting housing list in our city and district, delivering play parks for our children and looking after our environment for the future.

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I look forward to working with you all on these shared priorities.

The North is changing, and we have a huge opportunity ahead of us as a city and a community to seize the potential of the future. This is our time as a city to build a more inclusive, prosperous, and vibrant Derry City and Strabane District, under the banner of unity and progressive change.

Thank you for your trust, your time, and your support. Together, let's embrace our differences and build a new future together.

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