Belfast City Council tonight elected an entrepreneur with a media empire in Belfast and New York as the new Lord Mayor.
Sinn Fein’s Mairtin O Muilleoir, 53, took the post serving alongside Christopher Stalford of the DUP.
Mr O’Muilleoir, who is managing director of Belfast Media Group and publisher of the US-based Irish Echo, said he would aim to deliver more jobs and a greater peace dividend for working class communities in Belfast.
He said: “In the year ahead I want the help of all our citizens to make Belfast better. My theme for my year in office will be building the future Belfast together.
“First and foremost, that means building the peace and working hard to bring our sometimes divided people together. It also means striving to create jobs and doing all I can to help put the city’s economy back on track.”
Mr O’Muilleoir was a member of the council for a decade until 1997, before quitting politics to go into business.
The fluent Irish speaker wrote a book, The Dome of Delight, documenting his experiences as a Belfast councillor during the tense 1980s when there were fist fights and bitter exchanges between unionist and nationalist representatives.
He becomes the city’s fourth Sinn Fein Lord Mayor, following Niall O’Donnaghaile in 2012, Alex Maskey in 2002 and Tom Hartley in 2008.
Mr O’Muilleoir has stepped away from his business interests for the duration of his term as Lord Mayor.
“I will make respect my watchword during the year. I will stretch myself,” he added.
Mr O’Muilleoir returned to politics as a representative for Balmoral in south Belfast in 2011 but becoming Lord Mayor was never top of his agenda.
“In my first meeting I was put out after 10 minutes so being Lord Mayor didn’t really enter to my vision of things at the time,” he added.
Among his first engagements will be welcoming US president Barack Obama to Belfast ahead of the G8 summit later this month.
He said he hoped to encourage the president and influential Irish Americans to reignite their economic interest in Belfast.
“In his St Patrick’s Day address president Obama said that America had to do more to help hard-to-reach communities - that’s our inner city, working class communities.
“I want to say, ‘can you help us bring back the business missions which were here almost every week in the mid to late 90s which helped drive a buzz about Belfast and helped create jobs, trade and investment?’.
“I want to say to the president can he also step up to the plate. Wouldn’t it be great to have another US peace-building and economic envoy for the time ahead?”