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SDLP and Ulster Unionists take top two seats on Newry, Mourne and Down Council

'Together we have braved the worst of the coronavirus pandemic and the time has come to begin the process of unlocking our district'

Laura Devlin Harold McKee

The SDLP and Ulster Unionists have taken over the top two posts at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

Laura Devlin replaces Sinn Fein’s Charlie Casey as Chairperson.

And Harold McKee becomes the new Deputy Chair, after the annual general meeting held on Monday evening.

In her first speech as Chair, Councillor Devlin acknowledged the unique challenges of her year in office amidst the global fight against COVID-19.

She said: “Our response to the pandemic has been a testament to the warm, generous and compassionate spirit that exists throughout our entire community – this spirit which is found in the local football club, the volunteer in the food-bank or simply an individual who is looking out for their neighbour.

“This spirit is found in our healthcare workers, teachers, our tireless council staff and so many more.

“As a unified Council let our message to our constituents be imbued with that same spirit – we stand with you and we are proud to so. We will not abandon our businesses that have contributed for so many years to the common good of our district.

“Together we have braved the worst of the coronavirus pandemic and the time has come to begin the process of unlocking our district.

“The time has come to unlock the hospitality potential of our district which has never been challenged more than it is at present. Whilst we continue to be and must always be guided by science, we need to prepare for tomorrow.

“International travel for many will be ruled out so let us now focus on unlocking our district as the staycation destination in Ireland.

“It is also a time to unlock the potential of our local retailers. Throughout this pandemic they have provided so much for so many of us and we must support our local tourism providers, food and drink producers, local restaurants and bars and to shop in locally owned retail stores. At present many of them fear that they cannot weather the current storm.

“Let me assure you now, we stand with you. We are here for you.”

Councillor Devlin also paid tribute to the work of outgoing chairperson Councillor Charlie Casey and outgoing Deputy Chairperson Councillor Terry Andrews, and said she looked forwarded to working with Councillor Harold McKee as Deputy Chairperson.

Councillor McKee in turn offered his congratulations to Councillor Devlin.

And he added: “I would also like to pay tribute to the outgoing Chairperson Councillor Charlie Casey and Deputy Chairperson Councillor Andrews for all their hard work, dedication and professionalism in carrying out their roles.

“My position as Deputy Chairperson will look very different compared to previous years due to the current situation, however I am willing to embrace the challenge and look forward to working with all Elected Members across the district.”

Outgoing Chairperson, Councillor Charlie Casey thanked members and council officers for their support over the past year.

He said: “My year in office has been hugely rewarding and sometimes challenging.  I have travelled the length and breadth of the district from Culloville to Saintfield. I have visited and hosted scores of schools, community associations, voluntary groups and individuals and it has been an absolute privilege to see the work carried out across the district, especially by the community and voluntary sector.

“Due to the current pandemic we find ourselves in, all of my fundraising events had to be cancelled. However, due to sponsorship from Re-Gen Waste Ltd and other donations I was able to present my three chosen charities, Autism Families, Birthwise and Cuan Mhuire, with cheques for £2,500. Each were chosen with the family theme in mind.”

The outgoing Deputy Chairperson, Councillor Terry Andrews said: “It has been a privilege to work alongside Councillor Casey and serve the district.  I thank the Chairperson for his hard work and the manner in which he carried out his duties.  I also thank the Chief Executive, Marie Ward and council officers for all their help during my year in office.”    

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