Antrim Civic Centre’s Round Tower Chamber played host to the historic first meeting of the new Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council on Thursday.
As 39 of the 40 new councillors took up their seats - DUP councillor Matthew Magill was absent as he is currently in hospital - there were whispers the meeting might not get underway due to health and safety concerns.
The Round Tower Chamber has a capacity of 60, and while not raised in the chamber, there were whispers over who might have to be excluded with the capacity close to approaching its limit between elected members, council officers, and press.
The shadow council’s new Chief Executive Jacqui Dixon got the meeting underway ahead of the election of the new Presiding Councillor and Deputy Presiding Councillor.
With the DUP holding the majority on the new Antrim council with 15 seats, they were given first bite of the cherry in choosing who to appoint to one of the top roles.
Mandy Girvan was nominated by party colleague Councillor Thomas Hogg for the prestigious role of first citizen.
In proposing Councillor Girvan, Cllr. Hogg said she had “served with great distinction” since 2005 in the Antrim Line ward, and subsquently from 2011 representing Ballyclare.
“She has proved to be a real hard worker, an affective and dedicated, caring councillor,” Cllr. Hogg said.
He added: “She always takes the side of the underdog.”
Cllr. Hogg said that Cllr. Girvan will “bring great experience” during this transition period, adding that she was a “unanimous choice” among the DUP councillors for the role.
“This sends out a great message having a strong female representative at the the helm of this council, in this historic transition year,” Cllr. Hogg said.
Cllr. Girvan said she was “ready for the challenge”.
“It’s a very exciting time in the history of local govenment with many changes taking place,” Cllr. Girvan said.
She added: “I am ready for the challenge, after all that is why we are here.
“There are many different political groups in this room but we must move forward together as a team.”
The UUP were next to choose a representative to take a leading role, with Councillor Mark Cosgrove proposing veteran Antrim councillor Mervyn Rea for the role of Deputy Presiding Councillor.
Councillor Rea said he would “endeavour to work hard on the council” for everyone.
He joked that while he didn’t know Cllr. Girvan very well, he knows her husband, South Antrim MLA Paul Girvan.
“They say that for every good man there’s a better woman behind him, and if that’s the case then I look forward to working with you,” Cllr. Rea said.
The council will run in shadow form until March 31 next year and will next meet on June 24 in Mossley Mill.
Thereafter, council meetings will take place on the fourth Thursday of every month at 6.30pm and will rotate between the two venues.