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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Tributes paid to retiring councillors including Ald Tommy Nicholl who contested 11 elections

Pictured (L-R) are DUP Alderman Tommy Nicholl MBE, UUP Alderman Robin Cherry MBE, and UUP William McNeilly against backdrop of council chamber.
Pictured (L-R) are DUP Alderman Tommy Nicholl MBE, UUP Alderman Robin Cherry MBE, and UUP Alderman William McNeilly.

Mid and East Antrim’s longest serving councillor is retiring from local government after 42 years in the chamber.

DUP Alderman Tommy Nicholl MBE, a former Mayor of Ballymena, was first elected in May 1981.

He successfully contested 11 elections to serve the Bannside area in his home town and as a member of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council following the amalgamation of local authorities in Northern Ireland in 2015.

Ald Nicholl was Mayor twice, from  2001 until 2002 and from 2005 until 2006 and served as Deputy Mayor, from 1989 until 1990 and from 1990 until 1991.

Addressing members of council at The Braid in Ballymena on Monday evening after the final meeting of the current mandate, Ald Nicholl said:

“It has been a privilege to represent the good people of Bannside constituency throughout all of that time The people of the area have remained loyal to me. I am deeply appreciative of that support.

“I have met many people including Her late Majesty the Queen, prime ministers, government ministers. I have been in the USA, Europe and Gibraltar and many other countries but no matter where I have been, three things are always in my mind and in my heart.

“I never went anywhere if it meant leaving my Saviour outside that particular door. I was never ashamed of who I was or where I came from. I was always conscious that I was an ambassador for the borough that I dearly love and the people of Bannside.”

Ald Nicholl proceeded to thank the successive chief executives, officers and staff of Ballymena and Mid and East Antrim and said he will remember with fondness colleagues in the chamber and those who are “no longer with us”.

“You have made my time on council an enjoyable one and thank-you from the bottom of my heart for your friendship.

“I have always sought to do my best and give my all.  I have learnt many valuable lessons from many trusted colleagues but I have always tried to be genuine and do things my own way.”

Ald Nicholl went on to to quote a verse from Frank Sinatra’s song ‘I did it my way’ after which he was given a round of applause.

Earlier in the evening, tribute was paid by Ulster Unionist group leader Larne Lough Cllr Keith Turner to two retiring party colleagues.

Bannside councillors Ald William McNeilly, served as Deputy Mayor of Ballymena from 2010 until 2011. He has been an elected representative since 2001.  Ald Robin Cherry MBE, a Braid representative, was Deputy Mayor of Ballymena from 2011 until 2012.

Cllr Turner described Ald McNeilly as a “voice of reason” and the “driving force behind many projects” working to “get matters resolved in a quiet and proficient manner”.

Ald Cherry, he noted, was awarded an MBE for services to agriculture. He went on to say that he is a board member of the Balmoral Show. He carried out his duties for council with “utmost diligence and has left no stone unturned in his quest to bring better cemetery provision to Clough”.

He praised Ald Cherry for his guidance as president of Ballymena Chamber of Commerce during the  coronavirus pandemic.

“I am glad that they will not be lost to the party. They will serve on the agriculture and environment group. Willie’s experience in dairy farming and Robin’s knowledge of agriculture will be invaluable in guiding policy for the whole of Northern Ireland.”

At the same meeting, the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alderman Noel Williams, paid tribute to former Ballymena and Mid and East Antrim Ballymena DUP Ald Sam Hanna who died recently.

Condolences were offered to Mr Hanna’s wife Eileen, daughter Samantha and son-in-law Sam.

Meanwhile, Carrickfergus Castle Alderman Billy Ashe MBE has called for all portraits of Mid and East Antrim’s Mayors to be displayed.

Addressing Ald Williams, Ald Ashe said: “This concludes your term. The Mayors’ pictures are still not up in the corridor. We gurn about them every year.”

Ald Ashe was mayor from 2015 until 2016. Ald Williams replied:

”We are dealing with them during the recess, the purdah, so leave it with me.”

Ald Ashe continued: ”Well, I only found out there that they had been lying in somebody’s office for a long time but it is about time that the mayors and the former mayors of this council were treated with a bit of respect.”

The Mayor replied: “Noted, sir, noted.”


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