The newly selected chairman of a council has pledged to bring hope, ambition and growth to his district in a world that has become a more “dangerous place”.
Newry councillor, Michael Savage (SDLP) has officially taken on the role at Monday night’s AGM in Downpatrick.
Slieve Gullion councillor, Aoife Finnegan (SF) has been selected as deputy chair for the coming year.
The Newry, Mourne and Down District Council chairman told the chamber that he would strive to promote the district’s talents and resources to as many people as possible.
“I’m deeply honoured to receive this chain of office and will treat it with the honour and respect it deserves,” said Cllr Savage.
“The theme I have chosen for my year in office is hope and ambition through growth.
“It is not often you hear these three words in the one sentence these days given the turbulent times we live in.
“But I want to take these words and translate them into action through everything I do as chair of Newry Mourne and Down District Council in the year ahead.
“I firmly believe, that now is a time like no other, to offer our people hope and work to help them fulfil their ambitions by providing opportunities through growth.
“We need to offer hope at a time when we are emerging from Covid and one of the bleakest periods in our history when our communities and families lost so many loved ones and faced the additional trauma of not being able to say farewell in our traditional Irish and Ulster way,” he added.
The Downpatrick native reflected on the current economic crisis and the affects of the war in Ukraine, now apparent in the locality.
The ambitious plans for the district including the Newry park as well as the regeneration of the city centre were highlighted as two huge upcoming developments as well as support needed for more rural areas.
“We need to offer hope at a time when our health service is on its knees, our people are waiting for life changing operations.
“Our two local hospitals are fighting to take their rightful place in the much-needed transformation of our health service.
“Families across our district are facing the biggest cost of living crisis in living memory and mothers are skipping meals to feed their children and thousands continue to languish on a waiting list for a place to call home.
“We need to offer hope at a time when the world has become a more dangerous place with many of our people from Eastern Europe who now call our district their home living in fear for the safety of loved ones and friends in war torn Ukraine.
“Twenty years ago my father in law Frank Feely, who is with me here tonight with his wife Ella met with Queen Elizabeth and accepted city status on behalf of the people of greater Newry.
“It is my privilege and honour to chair council on this anniversary at a time when our city and district is on the cusp of the biggest inward investment programme in our history.
“I believe the Belfast Region City Deal and associated funding sources offer us the opportunity to provide our people with hope and ambition through growth.
“Fulfilling Newry’s ambition as a city will be central to my year ahead and I stand ready and available to work with our business community, statutory agencies and all our citizens to promote our district as a place to invest in.
“In parallel to that I also want to see the town where I spent my formative years, went to school and started my own business, Downpatrick reclaim its rightful status as the county town of Down,” said the chairman.
As tradition the new chair has chosen the charities to promote over the next 12 months, the Southern Area Hospice, Saint Vincent De Paul, the Salvation Army, Simon Community and the local network of Foodbanks.