Councillor Laura Devlin has taken up the role today of Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

Councillor Devlin replaces Cllr Charlie Casey who was in the role this past year. The posts were filled at today's Council annual general meeting which was conducted over Skype for the first time, with some councillors based in Newry Leisure Centre and others broadcasting from home. Councillor Harold McKee was also elected as the new Deputy Chairperson taking over from Councillor Terry Andrews.

Councillor Laura Devlin, the new Chairperson, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
Councillor Laura Devlin, the new Chairperson, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

Proud to serve the people

Speaking at the AGM the new Chairperson said "Ladies and gentlemen as I take up the position of Council Chair for this year I do so with an acknowledgement that this will be a year like no other.  I take up this position amidst the global fight against COVID-19 in which we are still engaged and the ever evolving socio-political climate of the north in which we find ourselves.

"I would like to begin at the outset by offering my most sincere and heartfelt prayers and thoughts to those many families across our district who are currently living with COVID-19 and who have lost loved ones to this virus.  May they rest in peace.

"I would like to pay tribute to Councillors Charlie Casey and Terry Andrews who have just completed their year in office.  They have both left an indelible mark.

Councillor Devlin went on to welcome her deputy chairperson "I would like to welcome Councillor Harold McKee to the position of Deputy Chair.  Harold is a tireless public representative, he is also an absolute gentleman and I look forward to working with you throughout this year.  This is the first time since the formation of Newry, Mourne and Down Council in which both the Chair and Deputy Chair were representatives of the same DEA.  Both Harold and I are proud to serve the people of the Mournes and we are proud to now represent all of the people of Newry, Mourne and Down Council."

Speaking about the community spirit which has been evident locally during the Covid-19 pandemic the new Chairperson said  "This is a year like no other.  The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on our district.  Lives have been lost, families shaken and businesses now facing a future of uncertainty.  Our response to the pandemic has been a testament to the warm, generous and compassionate spirit that exists throughout our entire community – this spirit which is found in the local football club, the volunteer in the food-bank or simply an individual who is looking out for their neighbour.  This spirit is found in our healthcare workers, teachers, our tireless council staff and so many more.  This spirit is found in the reassurance a parent offers their children in these times of worry.  All of these actions are reinforced by that spirit of welcome that exists here in Newry, Mourne and Down to friend and stranger alike. Neighbours looking out for each other and going that extra mile."

Unlocking Potential

Cllr Devlin believes now is the time to begin the process of unlocking the potential of our district.

The new Deputy Chairperson Cllr Harold McKee.
The new Deputy Chairperson Cllr Harold McKee.

"The time has come to unlock the tourism potential of Newry Mourne and Down.  Say what you will, but I genuinely believe that we have the best that Ireland has to offer in terms of tourism – be it the scenery, the amazing food and drinks, the outdoor recreation coupled with our unique retail offerings.

"The time has come to unlock the Hospitality potential of our district which has never been challenged more than it is at present. Whilst we continue to be and must always be guided by science we need to prepare for tomorrow.  International Travel for many will be ruled out so let us now focus on unlocking our district as the staycation destination in Ireland.

"It is time to unlock the potential of our local retailers.  Throughout this pandemic they have provided so much for so many of us and we must support our local tourism providers, food and drink producers, local restaurants and bars and to shop in locally owned retail stores. At present many of them fear that they cannot weather the current storm.  Let me assure you now, we stand with you.  We are here for you."

Continuing the Chairperson said "This is a year like no other.  The challenges we each face are propelled by the continuing climate crisis.  Let our concern for our shared home underpin all of the work that we do.  I have two young children at home.  In years to come I want to be able to tell Tom and Polly that the Newry Mourne and Down they enjoy and love is one which we helped preserve and helped grow.   It is time to unlock the green potential of Newry, Mourne and Down.

"In this year like no other it is true that we face many challenges, but this is part of the great work which we were each elected to do and which will form the future of our district.  We were elected to unlock the solutions to these challenges and to do so with the warm, generous and compassionate spirit that permeates every one of our lives and compels us ever onward in the hope of a tomorrow that we can, that we must, determine for the common good of our shared home."

The Mournes Councillor finished saying "In conclusion Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I take up this chain of office that carries the hopes, dreams and challenges of all the people of our district.  I am grateful for the task at hand and I promise each of you that when this year like no other has come to a close I will have done all that I can as your Chair to unlock the full potential of this kind, generous and compassionate district of Newry, Mourne and Down.  Thank you."

Deputy Chairperson Harold McKee also a Mournes councillor, spoke of his thanks to the previous Chair and Deputy and explained how he was looking forward to working alongside the new Chairperson.

On a new journey

Outgoing Chairperson Charlie Casey said "Normal council business has travelled on a new journey. Zoom and Skype is the new norm and it is through Zoom that we held a very successful annual Civic Awards night, a truly magnificent event showcasing all the unsung heroes through our district. Full marks to the organisers for putting it all together in such a short period of time."

Thanking essential workers and highlighting the importance of reaching out Cllr Casey added "Due to the unprecedented nightmare of Covid-19 we are in the midst of anxiety and confusion and it seems to be part and parcel of our lives, both at home and at work. It has never been more important to look after each other showing care and consideration and reaching out to those in need."

Cllr Casey also thanked essential workers,

Speaking about working with Cllr Casey Deputy Chairperson Terry Andrews said  "We absolutely worked well together, representing the whole district and I would like to wish him and Bridie and Family all the best for the future"

Cllr Andrews concluded with thanking local journalists and photographers from the local and online papers.

Standing Committee Appointments

Other business conducted at the meeting included the appointment of Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of the Council’s standing committees:

Active and Healthy Communities Committee

Chair – Cllr Leeanne McEvoy

Vice Chair – Cllr Gerry O’Hare

Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee

Chair – Cllr Andrew McMurray

Vice Chair – Cllr Michael Ruane

Neighbourhood Services

Chair – Cllr Oonagh Magennis

Vice Chair – Cllr Terry Andrews

Planning Committee

Chair – Cllr Robert Burgess

Vice Chair – Cllr Jarlath Tinnelly

Strategy, Policy and Resources Committee

Chair – Cllr Gareth Sharvin

Vice Chair – Cllr Oonagh Hanlon

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