Northern Ireland

Councillor set to be NI’s first black mayor not deterred by racism and threats

Comments come as man is arrested over reported online threats to SDLP councillor

Councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr has been the subject of racist abuse
Councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr has been the subject of racist abuse (Liam McBurney)

A councillor set to become Northern Ireland’s first black mayor has said the racist abuse and death threats directed at her since the announcement have made her more determined to succeed in the role.

Lilian Seenoi-Barr, who is originally from Kenya, has been selected by the SDLP to be the next first citizen of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

Her party leader Colum Eastwood has condemned the racist abuse and what he described as “very serious death threats” aimed at Ms Seenoi-Barr.

It comes as a 30-year-old man was arrested in Derry on Sunday on suspicion of harassment, threats to kill and improper use of a public electronic communications network in relation to reported online threats against Ms Barr.

Police are treating the report as a racially motivated hate crime, and the man remained in custody on Sunday evening.

The councillor said on Sunday that she wanted to focus on the many people who had reacted positively to her selection.

“My family is the one that is feeling it more than myself, I’m used to it,” Ms Seenoi-Barr said of the abuse and threats.

“Since I put myself forward to represent my community, since I came to this country, I’ve been experiencing racism but obviously it’s (the recent abuse) beyond what I have been experiencing.

“The death threats have been extremely hurtful to my family and to myself too, but I’m more focused on the positives. I have had enormous support across the island – community organisations, politicians who have reached out and stood in solidarity. That is the Derry I know, the Ireland I know, and that’s what I want to focus on.”

She told BBC NI’s Sunday Politics programme that she had not had second thoughts about taking up the post.

“Absolutely, no,” she said.

“I think it has actually made me more determined because we need to be represented, we need a more inclusive and progressive society and the majority of people, particularly in my city, stand with me.

“I have never enjoyed so much support than I have enjoyed the last few weeks from everyone across the city. When I’m walking on the street, people are hugging me and congratulating me. It’s something that they want and they want to celebrate it and I’m really looking forward to showcasing the best of our city.

“Many of the abuse are coming are not from Derry, although some are. We’re not a perfect country and there is so much that is going on.”

She added: “My focus is really to show that we are a united community, we can be a united community and everyone within our city and district can be represented by anyone, regardless of the colour of their skin. And we have the opportunity to do that together.”

Separate to the abuse directed at Ms Seenoi-Barr, the process used by the SDLP to select her as mayor has caused some internal discontent within party ranks in Derry, with two councillors having resigned over the issue amid claims it was undemocratic.

Mr Eastwood has conceded that the party had lessons to learn over how it communicated a new policy, introduced last year, on selecting mayoral candidates.

However, he has insisted that Ms Seenoi-Barr was the “stand-out” candidate to become mayor.

Asked about the issue on Sunday, the councillor said: “It’s obviously disappointing that two of my colleagues who I have worked with the last three years since I got to council decided to resign.

“But I’m honestly focused on the way forward, I’m focused on serving my community.”