Since taking up his high profile role in the City Hall, lord mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has been at the forefront of a campaign to publicise the achievements of his city’s people. It’s all good stuff, too. From his latest make over, complete with dyed purple and green hair for Belfast children’s festival, to celebrating the trends of local fashion designers and art dealers, Ó Muilleoir has found an embracing audience from which to spread native charm. Say it right and chances are the lord mayor will retweet your every word. Such is his inclination to include all positive vibes arriving to his Twitter account @NewBelfast, that neither nationalist nor unionist communities could ever feel discriminated against by way of Twitter equality. Diverse interests of ethnic minorities to business alignments between Ireland and America are championed just as extensively.
Ó Muilleoir’s effective social media campaign comes at a time when local politicians continue to lose face by dithering on the issues of flags, parades and the past. While they court controversy, his modern approach to the post peace process era, ensures he steers clear of Stormont’s madding crowd. Yet he was not as fortunate to avoid angry crowds at Woodvale Park in August where his presence was greeted with scenes of public disorder by loyalists. Despite the assistance of his minders and a police entourage, Ó Muilleoir was harangued and attacked whilst officially opening the park. History came in November when his attendance at the City Hall commemoration of British war dead made him the first Sinn Fein Mayor to do so.
But what happens to those who seek to chronicle these events and his time in office? Wanting to engage with Máirtín Ó Muilleoir directly to discuss any of the above presents notable obstacles, not least his busy schedule. Enquires made to Belfast city council press office must include the series of questions intended for discussion prior to permission for interview being granted. Any questions that have a direct or indirect association with Sinn Fein mean the process shifts to their press representatives.
In preparation for publication of January’s edition Off the Record went through this process during December only to be declined an interview. On the record, Ó Muilleoir has been strong to point out that he will continue to defy further threats to his safety to further the interests of public office, a man bent on championing people and political issues but sees fit to talk with and about them, on his terms or not at all. It is disappointing to think Sinn Fein are insistent upon Ó Muilleoir being kept from the spotlight where party matters are concerned. If bringing the 1916 Irish proclamation of independence into office at City Hall is not a political statement or symbolic of Ó Muilleoir’s republicanism then we can all assume politics is dead. Is it reasonable to ask that he speak about this? Or gauge his thoughts on the stumbling blocks that effected the Haass talks? How about the future? Will he continue to concentrate on his role with the Belfast media group and extend his entrepreneurial profile after leaving office in June? Or the past? Is he comfortable with the characterisation of him being in the political wilderness? For now, those answers can only be speculated on. Like much else at the City Hall. Flag or no flag.
This article was published by Off The Record NI on Monday 3rd February 2014.