Northern Ireland elects a Black woman as mayor of one of its largest cities

Lilian Seenoi-Barr arrived in Northern Ireland as a refugee and is now the first Black woman to be elected mayor of Derry, also known as Londonderry and Strabane, a town in County Tyrone.

This is believed to be the first time a Black politician has been elected to public office in Northern Ireland, although Rotimi Adebari, a Nigerian-born Irish politician, was elected as the first Black mayor in Ireland in 2007, serving Portlaoise Town Council. She is from Kenya.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, while the Republic of Ireland is an independent, sovereign nation.

Lilian Seenoi-Barr, who is 42, told the Irish Times it was a “historic moment.” 

She also wanted to thank voters “for their support and their belief and really looking beyond the color of someone’s skin and looking at hard work and what somebody can bring to the table.”

But not everyone is happy. Police arrested a man, who was not identified, for threatening Seenoi-Barr, and police are looking for his accomplice.

Seenoi-Barr’s election follows the election of Vaughan Gething, the first Black man to lead the country of Wales, a country of 3.1 million people between England and Northern Ireland. Wales is a semi-autonomous government. 

Seenoi-Barr was elected for the SDLP in the Foyleside District Electoral Area (DEA) in Derry City and Strabane District Council. 

As the director of programs for the North-West Migrants Forum in Derry, she previously stood unsuccessfully for election for the party in 2019 but was co-opted onto the council in 2021.

“I hope my election services as an inspiration for individuals from all backgrounds to step forward and serve their community, but particularly to the wide range of minority ethnic people who have skills and have so much to give but may be afraid because of the divisions and the politics of dysfunction in Northern Ireland, and the fear of being abused or the fear of racism,” Ms Seenoi-Barr told The Irish Times.

Derry, officially Londonderry, is the largest city in County Londonderry, the second-largest in Northern Ireland and the fifth-largest on the island of Ireland. Its population was 85,279 in 2021. 

The city is also known for Derry Girls, a British period teen sitcom set in Northern Ireland.