Northern Ireland

SDLP councillor due to become Northern Ireland’s first black mayor faces `targeted abuse’

Party leader Colum Eastwood defends Lilian Barr after comments from far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones

Lilian Seenoi-Barr, SDLP councillor for Foyleside. Picture by Mal MCann.
Lilian Seenoi-Barr is set to make history by becoming Northern Ireland's first black mayor. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

SDLP councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr - who will make history by becoming Northern Ireland’s first black mayor - has come under attack from “far right hate mongers” her party leader has said.

Ms Seenoi-Barr will take up the role as first citizen of Derry City and Strabane District Council in June.

It comes amid a row over the selection process, which prompted the resignation of party councillor Jason Barr, who said he will now continue as an independent.

Jason Barr
Jason Barr has quit the SDLP

In a statement on Monday, the Strabane councillor said he “simply cannot be involved in a party that doesn’t stick to party democratic processes”.

Mr Barr and another SDLP councillor, Shauna Cusack, hit out at being removed as candidates for mayor, claiming the selection process was undemocratic.

In his statement posted on social media, Mr Barr his decision to resign from the SDLP was “not made easily”.

“I simply cannot be involved in a party that doesn’t stick to party democratic processes,” he wrote.

“Can I finally add that I wish Lilian a very successful tenure in her position of mayoress for our council area, a position I have no doubt in saying, she will go above and beyond.”

Public statement. Today I have resigned from the SDLP and will continue my tenure as an Independent Councillor. This...

Posted by Cllr Jason Barr on Sunday 28 April 2024

Ms Seenoi-Barr told the BBC’s Radio Foyle North West Today programme on Monday that she was disappointed to hear Mr Barr had resigned, but said she had been selected for the mayoral role through “an open process”.

“The process was open for everyone and they can ask management those questions if they have any reservations but I want to focus on the position.”

The Foyleside councillor also said she wanted to be “a mayor for everyone and represent every single voice”.

The SDLP said it did not comment on internal selection processes.

Its leader, Colum Eastwood, meanwhile, defended the incoming mayor after she was subjected to abuse.

He said those attacking Ms Barr included American far right commentator Alex Jones, who was ordered to pay £1.2bn for falsely claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax.

“These people don’t care about places like Derry and Strabane, they don’t care about the people who live here and have made a home for their families here,” he said.

“The hate at the heart of their politics could not stand more starkly against the compassion that Lilian has shown for the people of Derry, people across this island and those in need even further afield.

“Lilian will be an excellent mayor precisely because she cares deeply about people regardless of their background, she is fearless in her advocacy and she works every single day to bring communities closer together.”