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Tom recalls his year as city's First Citizen: Ekin [South Belfast News]

May 21, 2005 12:00 AM
By Evan Short in South Belfast News

These next few weeks will mark the end of Alliance man Tom Ekin's year as First Citizen of Belfast. The ever expanding city is becoming more and more challenging to administer and we caught up with the Lord Mayor to find out how he thinks the year has gone, what he has achieved and what lessons has he learned for the future.

"I feel that my year in office has been reasonably successful and I achieved most of the goals I set out to achieve. I only had a year which you find isn't a long time but I worked as best I could to make a difference."

Tom explains what these goals were.

"My main aim was to pull together some folks who were members of our society but not playing a full part. I especially wanted to reach out to ethnic minorities to ensure they did not ghettoise themselves but played a full and active part in our city."

As the year proceeded, Tom Ekin believes that he made good inroads into dealing with these problems.

"I sat down with the Orange Order and tried to move the parades issue forward. I wanted them to take on board the issue of bonfires and also how to deal with the marching season. I succeeded in getting them to back the idea of safer bonfires while reiterating their support for non-violence and respect for all communities.

"I engaged also with the St Patrick's Day people and had some constructive dialogue to help with the future of the celebration of this festival.

"I believe that if you talk to people without bigoted ideas you can get things done,"

Getting things done, dealing with bread and butter council issues took up a lot of his time, but Tom says he now realises where things can be improved.

"One of the things I noticed most as Lord Mayor was that there is room to cut the Council workload and cut costs though better organisation. I am setting up meetings now before I leave to get the group leaders if the Council to meet and discuss how we can be more efficient and hopefully in the long run we can pass any money saving on to the people of Belfast through lower rates.

The Lord Mayor explains how being seen to show good leadership was a driving force behind how he conducted himself over the last year.

"Being Lord Mayor of Belfast is firstly a great privilege and it gives you a great insight into a different way of living, It is a full time job, though, and anyone who thinks they could do it on a part time basis us very wrong. It is a major commitment and takes up all your time but you get to meet lots of people and it is nice to act as an ambassador for the city.

"With the political situation as it is I ask myself where the leadership is coming from?

"We have no assembly so people look to their councillors for guidance. Leadership comes from the top and the Lord Mayor should set a good example, which I think I have done.

"When I first found out I was to become Lord Mayor, I had not given the role much thought but I quickly realised that I wanted to make an impact on the role.

"I wanted to be progressive and over the year I have to say that anywhere I went I was never rejected. Although I did not get a chance to visit everywhere, anywhere I did go I was accepted.

"Overall I think that I created a different environment."

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