Northern Ireland

SDLP councillors hit out at ‘unfair’ removal as candidates in Derry and Strabane mayoral election

Council set to make history with Lilian Seenoi-Barr as Northern Ireland’s first black mayor

The SDLP's Lilian Seenoi Barr with Mark H Durkan
The SDLP's Lilian Seenoi Barr with MLA Mark H Durkan.

Two SDLP councillors have hit out at being removed as candidates for Derry and Strabane mayor, after a third candidate was selected for the role by the party.

Shauna Cusack, who represents the Foyleside area and Sperrin representative Jason Barr, the current deputy mayor, have accused SDLP headquarters of “quite misleading and evasive” information regarding the choice of a single candidate for mayor without a selection convention.

The SDLP announced on Monday that Foyleside councillor Lillian Seenoi-Barr was its choice for Derry and Strabane mayor.

She is now set to take up the role in the coming weeks.

Ms Seenoi-Barr, who was co-opted to the council in 2021, became the first black person in the north’s history to win a council seat when she was elected last year.

The Black Lives Matter campaigner will now be ratified to become the first black mayor in the north, which the party leadership has described as a “significant”.

SDLP Foyleside councillor Shauna Cusack. PICTURE: SHAUNA CUSACK/X
SDLP Foyleside councillor Shauna Cusack. PICTURE: SHAUNA CUSACK/X

However Ms Cusack and Mr Barr, hit out at their “unfair” removal as candidates, claiming they were due to stand at a selection convention on Monday alongside Ms Seenoi-Barr before the event was “cancelled”.

In a joint statement the pair said they have been told by the party that the decision to choose a sole candidate was made as a result of a “retrospective, informal, online interview” held last week, “which we were told was a matter of procedure for constitutional purposes”.

“At no stage were we advised that this would determine our candidacy,” they said.

Jason Barr
Jason Barr

They said they were “incredibly disappointed and frustrated” that members would not be able to vote on their preferred candidate.

“We have, like others, lodged our objections to this highly irregular, unfair and unprecedented process”...adding their requests for reconsideration “have been met with silence from all concerned”.

In a statement, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he was “proud” that Ms Seenoi-Barr would become mayor.

“Since moving to Derry from Kenya, Lilian has embedded herself in the centre of life in our city, getting involved in a range positive initiatives, mostly notably helping others from migrant backgrounds adjust to life in their new home,” he said.

Ms Seenoi-Barr said she would “work for every single person in this city regardless of their religion, ethnicity or background.”

An SDLP spokesperson meanwhile said the party did not comment on internal selection processes.