The DUP Mayor of Craigavon Carla Lockhart has been praised for showing political leadership and enhancing community relations after attending a function to honour the Armagh ladies gaelic football team.
Along with her counterparts from Armagh City and District and Newry and Mourne, Councillor Lockhart hosted a joint civic dinner celebrating the Orchard County’s All Ireland Intermediate Championship success this autumn.
At a time when Northern Ireland’s deep divisions around identity issues have manifested themselves in a very visible way with flag rows, street protests and recriminations, the inclusive event in Armagh City Hotel offered a snapshot of the shared society politicians preach about.
The fact that two young female Mayors – Cllr Lockhart and Armagh’s SDLP Councillor Sharon Haughey – from across the traditional divide came together to mark the success of young female sportspeople added to the sense of positive symbolism on the night.
Armagh City and District Lord Mayor Haughey and Craigavon Mayor Lockhart were joined by Newry and Mourne Mayor, Councillor John McArdle, at an event attended by representatives of all four main political parties.
Although a Tyrone woman by birth and not in traditional territory for a DUP politician, Councillor Lockhart was warmly received by the audience and offered fulsome praise for the team’s achievements in 2012.
After watching a re-run of Armagh’s Croke Park victory over Waterford on the big screens during dinner, the 27-year-old Mayor expressed admiration for the commitment, fitness and skill levels of the players, who she described as inspirational role models in the local community.
An Armagh gael who attended the function told the Portadown Times that the Mayor’s presence at the event was greatly appreciated by the team and officials, who were impressed by the enthusiasm she showed in congratulating the players and management on their success.
“She spoke with real respect, sincerity and warmth which went down very well with everyone and even entered into the traditional banter by joking that she might not be too popular due to her Tyrone roots,” the source said.
“This was an encouraging example of a First Citizen being prepared to really represent everyone in a respectful fashion and do so with genuine engagement and good grace rather than appearing reluctant or half-hearted. She appeared relaxed and got a great reception.
“Attending this event didn’t compromise Councillor Lockhart’s cultural identity but, by having the confidence to embrace her civic responsibilities, she has not only honoured these deserving young sportswomen but sent an important message to the wider community that all citizens are to be cherished equally.
“Craigavon Council has had its share of controversies over the years and, at a practical local level, Carla co-hosting this function was probably even more meaningful than the gesture of Peter Robinson attending a gaelic football match earlier in the year.”
Almost half of the Armagh team which started October’s Croke Park final, including captain Mags McAlinden, a Derrytrasna woman, come from the Borough of Craigavon while the side’s star player Caroline O’Hanlon has been working as a doctor at Craigavon Area Hospital.
O’Hanlon is a unifying figure in that, as well as being an absolute ladies gaelic icon, she is also the hero of the Northern Ireland netball team’s impressive rise as an international force in recent years.
Her late uncle, Poyntzpass man Tom Canavan, was a politician greatly respected across the community when he represented the Cusher ward on Armagh Council.