Racist abuse won't put new Derry mayor off job

Lilian Seenoi-Barr
Lilian Seenoi-Barr told BBC News NI's Sunday Politics that the majority of the people in the area stood with her [BBC]

A councillor who will become the first black mayor in Northern Ireland has said racist abuse will not put her off taking the role.

Lilian Seenoi-Barr, who was selected by the SDLP to be the next mayor of Derry and Strabane said she had received death threats.

On Sunday a 30-year-old-man was arrested in relation online threats, police said.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is treating it as a racially-motivated hate crime.

He was arrested on suspicion of harassment, threats to kill and improper use of a public electronic communications network.

Ms Seenoi-Barr told BBC News NI's Sunday Politics the majority of the people in the area stood with her and the people of Derry had taken her "into their hearts".

"I think it has actually made me more determined, because we need to be represented, we need a more inclusive and progressive society," she said.

"It’s not about making history, but it is about delivering for the people and representing the people that elected me."

Ms Seenoi-Barr said her family "is feeling it more than myself".

"Since I put myself forward to represent my community, since I came to this country, I’ve been experiencing racism," she said.

"But obviously it’s beyond what I had been experiencing – the death threats have been extremely hurtful to my family and to myself too.

"But I’m more focused on the positives, I have had enormous support across the island."

The SDLP is set to change how it appoints "civil leadership" positions after two councillors resigned over the selection process.

United against racism

Ms Seenoi-Barr has been a councillor since 2021, when she was co-opted by the SDLP to the Derry and Strabane District Council's Foyleside ward before she retained her seat in last year's local elections.

Several Stormont politicians condemned the online racist abuse directed at Ms Seenoi-Barr, including SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Eastwood, who is also the Foyle MP, added: “This kind of stuff is allowed to happen actually because politicians do not mind their language.

“I think all of us have to be very careful about that, whether it’s on this island or whether it is in the government in London”.

He said it was important to stand united against racism.

“We will not be led into the gutter by far right activists whether they are coming from America, Dublin or Derry online,” he said.

You can watch Sunday Politics on iPlayer here.