From Refugee to Mayor: Lillian Senoi Barr Makes History in Northern Ireland

From Refugee to Mayor: Lillian Senoi Barr Makes History in Northern Ireland

Lillian Senoi Barr made history as the first black mayor in Northern Ireland. Fourteen years ago, she arrived in Londonderry as a refugee from Kenya. Last year, she became the first black person to be elected to public office in Northern Ireland.

On June 3, 2024, SDLP’s Councillor Lilian Seenoi Barr was elected the new Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council for the 2024-25 term. She accepted the Mayoral chain from her predecessor, Sinn Féin’s Councillor Patricia Logue, during the Council’s Annual meeting at the Guildhall.

Supported by Ulster Unionist Deputy Mayor Alderman Darren Guy, Mayor Barr expressed her deep honor at representing the city and district. She vowed to lead with ambition and ensure that all voices within the vibrant community are heard and represented. Committed to working tirelessly for everyone, she outlined her focus on “unity, growth, and the common good.” Her pledges include working to end poverty, attracting investment, supporting young people to achieve their full potential, creating jobs, and advocating for quality affordable housing. Additionally, she aims to address the long waiting lists for housing, deliver play parks for children, and focus on environmental issues.

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‘Congratulations to the new Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council @Lseenoi and the new Chair of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council @peterbyrnejnr History makers.’ ~The SDLP | X

Reflecting on her journey to becoming the First Citizen, Mayor Barr spoke about her pride in her Maasai heritage, its rich culture, and its strong values of justice and freedom. She intends to incorporate these values into her work during her Mayoral term. As the Foyleside DEA-based representative, she is committed to being a Mayor for everyone, emphasizing accessibility and hope. She declared that the era of green and orange politics is over, replaced by a new united community.

Mayor Barr extended special thanks to her family for their support, particularly acknowledging the supportive role of her husband and son. She announced that her Mayoral charity would be BUDS Club, a youth-led educational and developmental service for young people with disabilities aged 11 to 25, serving the entire Council area. One of her key initiatives for her Mayoral year is the establishment of a Mayoral Youth Network, designed to inspire young people to assume leadership positions and prioritize their mental health.

Lillian Senoi Barr arrived in Derry in 2010 with her son Brian and was granted refugee status. In an exclusive interview with BBC News, she recounted her early days in Derry, where there were only a few Kenyans in the area. She never imagined that she would one day become the first citizen of Northern Ireland’s second city.

“If you had told me that I would become the first citizen of the second city, I would not have believed it,” Mayor Lillian Senoi Barr said. “When I came to Northern Ireland, walking in the streets of Derry, I could hardly see a black person. At that time, I think there were only three Kenyans, and I became the fourth.”

As a mother of an autistic son, Mayor Barr was driven by concerns over the misconceptions and negative conditions surrounding autism in Africa, which contributed to her decision to leave the continent.

Tapiwa Rubaya

Tapiwa Rubaya is the current affairs, fashion and sports reporter at My Afrika Magazine.

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