Northern Ireland news

Ex-Belfast mayor Nuala McAllister's portrait costs ratepayers £10,850

Former Belfast lord mayor, Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister, with her son Finn at the unveiling of her official portrait. Picture by Philip Walsh
Brendan Hughes

A PORTRAIT of Belfast's former lord mayor Nuala McAllister has cost ratepayers £10,850.

The painting is a collaboration by Jamie Baird and Daniel Nelis, two artists aged in their twenties who both graduated in recent years from Ulster University.

Belfast is the only council in the north which routinely pays for painted portraits of its civic leaders, which since 2005 have cost more than £140,000.

Public spending campaigners have branded such portraits an "expensive vanity project", but the council says it is a tradition "popular with citizens and tourists alike".

Alliance councillor Ms McAllister's portrait was unveiled yesterday at Belfast City Hall.

She said the collaboration idea came about after visiting to Ulster University's art school.

Ms McAllister said the portrait "perfectly reflects a memorable year in my life".

"My son Finn has been included because he was a very important part of that year and accompanied me to a number of engagements," she added.

Mr Baird, originally from Richhill in Co Armagh, said the "entire creative process took the best part of a year".

Mr Nelis, from rural Co Donegal, said it was a "rewarding and enjoyable experience".

Twelve mayoral portraits have been commissioned by the council since 2005, with the artists personally chosen by each lord mayor.

The most expensive was of 2010-11 mayor Pat Convery – formerly of the SDLP before he quit the party – created by John Keane for £15,150.

The DUP's Gavin Robinson, now MP for East Belfast, and DUP councillor Brian Kingston each had portraits costing £15,000.

Sinn Fein's Niall Ó Donnghaile had the least expensive portrait at £7,000.

Belfast council has previously defended commissioning mayoral portraits.

"Commissioning portraits of lord mayors is a long-standing tradition that dates back to the 1850s and has provided the council with both a valuable and historic art collection and an asset that is popular with citizens and tourists alike," it said.

In 2014, the TaxPayers' Alliance called for MLAs to consider photographs as a cheaper alternative after it emerged that almost £82,000 had been spent on painted portraits.

"Taxpayers are fed up of paying for politicians' vanity portraits," the group said.

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:: Belfast lord mayor portraits and their cost

- Wallace Browne (DUP), 2005-06, portrait by Israel Zohar – £9,000

- Pat McCarthy (SDLP), 2006-07, by Mick O'Dea – £9,000

- Tom Hartley (Sinn Féin), 2008-09, by John B Vallely – £12,500

- Naomi Long (Alliance), 2009-10, by Nicola Russell – £13,000

- Pat Convery (SDLP), 2010-11, by John Keane – £15,150

- Niall O Donnghaile (Sinn Féin), 2011-12, by Danny Devenny – £7,000

- Gavin Robinson (DUP), 2012-13, by Ross Wilson – £15,000

- Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Sinn Féin), 2013/14, by Robert Ballagh – £14,000

- Nichola Mallon (SDLP), 2014-15, by Ian Cumberland – £10,000

- Arder Carson (Sinn Féin), 2015-16, by Tony Bell – £10,000

- Brian Kingston (DUP), 2016-17, by Colin Davidson – £15,000

- Nuala McAllister (Alliance), 2017-18, by Jamie Baird and Daniel Nelis – £10,850

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