Northern Ireland appoints its first Black mayor in Kenyan immigrant Lillian Seenoi-Barr

BY Nii Ntreh June 6, 2024 7:27 AM EDT
Lillian Seenoi-Barr, first Black mayor in Northern Ireland. Photo Credit: BBC

Lillian Seenoi-Barr has become the first black female mayor of the Derry City and Strabane District Council in Northern Ireland. Once a refugee from Kenya, Seenoi-Barr’s election has been praised as a sign of improvements in diversity and inclusion in Northern Ireland.

On June 3, the 43-year-old politician and councilor was sworn in. She was installed as Mayor of Derry City and Strabane during a special council meeting at Guildhall. About 300 persons, including Kenyan representatives, friends and relatives, and members of various ethnic minority groups, were present to witness this historic event.

She made history last year when she became the first black politician to be elected to any public office in Northern Ireland.

Seenoi-Barr arrived in Derry in 2010 and has since become a UK citizen. She was born in October 1981 and raised in Narok County in southwestern Kenya. She moved to Derry with her son Brian to seek protection and was granted refugee status.

She has also been a councilor for the Foyleside ward since 2021 and retained her seat with a victory in the 2023 elections, standing for the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

Addressing the audience at her installation, Ms. Seenoi-Barr said she came to the city in search of a better life for herself and her son.

“If you told me that I  would become the first citizen of the second city (in Northern Ireland), I would not have believed you,” she added.

However, it has not all been rosy for the new mayor. She has been receiving death threats and racist abuse in the wake of the announcement that she will be the new mayor. But she said she chooses to look at the glass half full.

“I have witnessed the warmth and kindness of the Derry I know and have loved with all my heart, through the kindness of strangers and the outpouring of solidarity and support,” she said.

She also said she was committed to working hard for the entire city and would aim to be accessible to everyone.

Seenoi-Barr’s mayoral promotion comes on the back of Vaughan Gething‘s election to the role of First Minister in Wales. Mr. Gething, born to a Zambian mother and a Welsh father, is the first Black head of government anywhere in Europe.

In his victory speech in March in the Welsh Senedd, Gething promised to “bring together a government that constantly makes the positive case for progressive politics. To remind people, that only through coming together, can we achieve for the many.”

Before becoming a politician, Gething was a lawyer who represented labor interests. At only 34, he became the youngest and first Black person to be elected head of Wales TUC, the largest umbrella body of labor unions in the country. He served as a city councilor between 2004 and 2008 before embarking on a career in active politics in 2011 when he went to the Welsh parliament. His ascent to the top has largely been flawless since then.

Currently, the consensus is that in the small nation west of England, the 50-year-old is fairly liked and if he remains dominant within the local Labour Party, he will be the country’s First Minister beyond the next Senedd elections in 2026.