In her last week as Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle looks back on her tenure as First Citizen and despite COVID-19 rocking the world to its core, she is confident the incredible spirit and resilience of the local community, will see the region through this to better times ahead.
Mayor Michaela Boyle’s term in office ends on Monday evening when the Council holds its first ever virtual Annual General Meeting when a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor will take over the reins for the coming year. It has been an extremely busy year for the Strabane native and one she has taken on with great relish and enthusiasm, attending events across the Council area and reaching out to all communities.
“It has been an amazing year, I have really enjoyed representing the City and District as Mayor and being involved in so many events and initiatives, it has been incredible. It has been a huge honour to serve the people of Derry and Strabane over the past 12 months, and I am humbled every day at the way the public have responded to me and welcomed me into their hearts with so much warmth and kindness.
“When I took up the post as Mayor a year ago little did I know what lay in store. The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked us all to our core. It is the biggest public health crisis in generations and there is not a corner of the globe that it has not affected. The loss of life has been heart-breaking.
“These have been the most difficult of times and we have all made huge sacrifices and are yearning for a return to normality. I am convinced we can get there. I can say that with confidence. As Mayor of this wonderful city and district I have seen at first hand the incredible spirit of community solidarity and determination that exists to confront this disease and do all we can to protect the most vulnerable.
“The work that is being done in the community and voluntary sector locally is incredible. The level of work being done across our communities day and night to ensure the vulnerable are cared for, is unprecedented.
“I see it in the selfless efforts of all the workers who continue to go to their jobs every day to ensure vital services continue to be provided and in the sacrifices made by families and citizens across this region to protect each other and win this fight.”
Mayor Boyle said however, that now is not a time to be complacent and the public must continue to adhere to the health and government advice and continue to protect and save lives.
Speaking about the weeks and months ahead, Michaela Boyle said she is optimistic for the future and as we emerge from this emergency situation that the region’s joint commitment, community spirit and resilience will be vital in helping to repair, regenerate and rebuild the economy.
She said: “Confirmation that the Graduate Medical School at Magee will have its first student intake next September is hugely positive news, particularly at a time when the focus is on the NHS and the need for healthcare workers. Having doctors trained and retained in the North West will be a game changer for the region and the medical school will provide the impetus to drive the overall expansion of the university and bring with it the social and economic benefits. Recent confirmation of the £210m City Deal funding package was excellent news for us as it has the potential to transform this region and allow us to fully realise our economic potential and I am delighted to have been involved in these discussions and to be part of the great work being done to showcase everything that is positive about region.”
Michaela Boyle is a Strabane girl at heart, believes that her hometown has greatly benefited from recent investment, and has a bright future ahead thanks to ambitious plans by Council and other partners.
She said the funding earmarked for Strabane’s town centre regeneration and the Canal Basin regeneration project will totally transform it and see the integration of a major health hub, leisure facilities and education facilities in the heart of the town, while work on the Riverine project with Lifford in Donegal is set to continue.
“Investment of this scale is unprecedented for the North West and I want to acknowledge the work that has been done to secure this money for our region and the level of commitment and determination that has been shown by our Council, our politicians and stakeholders to lobby and secure for funding. The investment is a huge vote of confidence in the region and evidence that Stormont is finally serious in helping to redress past neglect.”
Mayor Boyle said work to progress with the A5 dual carriageway remained crucial and that lobbying for continued investment in our transport infrastructure is essential if the region is to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
Looking back on her year as Mayor, Michaela Boyle said there were many highlights and good memories.
“It has been a wonderful experience and I have loved meeting people, going out into the schools, having groups into the Guildhall and seeing at first hand the wonderful work that is being done across our communities. I have had the huge honour of meeting with Dana when she filmed in the Guildhall and met with Phil Coulter and Bronagh Gallagher, as well as some of the cast of the Derry Girls. I particularly enjoyed the Mass at Celtic Park with Bishop McKeown that was attended by all the Confirmation children from across the Diocese and was very honoured to host a reception for the Rev David Latimer and meeting with the President Michael D Higgins.
“I travelled to Philadelphia and Boston last October as part of a joint delegation with Donegal County Council to promote the region where myself and An Cathaoirleach Nicholas Crossan had a very positive meeting with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Attending the many Council organised events was also very enjoyable; I loved being part of the Halloween and Christmas celebrations and being a guest at the Chinese New Year celebrations. Never in my life could I imagine I would have been on a stage doing Hip Hop Dancing as part of the Council’s Strictly Come Dancing.
“The monthly tea dances were particularly special for me and I loved meeting and chatting with the older people and hearing their wonderful stories. I really enjoyed being out and about meeting young people in schools, sports clubs and community settings to see at first hand the level of talent and creativity we have in our region. During my year, we witnessed the sad passing of a number of people including Ivan Cooper, Bishop Mehaffey, Seamus Mallon, Maisie Crawford and John Dallat.”
Mayor Boyle paid tribute to all the elected members, including her Deputy Mayor Cllr Cara Hunter, and all the Council staff, including the Chief Executive John Kelpie, for their continued help, advice and support during her Mayoral year.
“At the start of my year I made a promise that I would be a Mayor for all, that I would interact and reach out to everyone. I did that and listened without judgement and respected other cultures and extended a sincere hand of friendship across the Council area. I hope I have made a difference by respecting each other’s differences. People are created equal but we are not all the same.”
She paid a special tribute to her family, particularly her husband Paul, four daughters and three grandchildren, for sacrificing a lot of precious family time so that she could fulfil her Mayoral duties.
She also thanked public for supporting her Mayoral charities – the Foyle Women’s Aid and the Koram Centre. While a number of fundraising activities had to be cancelled because of the pandemic, she is confident she has not only raised the profile of their services, but also raised much needed money to help them carry out their essential work.
Concluding Mayor Boyle extended her best wishes to the new incoming Mayor in what will be a challenging period for everyone.
She said: “I look forward to working with the new Mayor as we face this challenge together. I also look forward to harnessing the spirit of solidarity and unity that has served us so well over the past months. By working together I am confident that a better and stronger region emerges on the other side of these difficult times.”