Reunion planned as council bows out

Councillors, directors and chief executives, past and present, will gather for a Friday farewell to Banbridge council as the district authority formally brings down the shutters on 42 years of local government.

The working week will draw to a close with the last ever statutory meeting of a council which came into being in 1973 as a result of local government reform.

It was one of 26 authorities to replace the old urban and rural district councils and now, following another round of reform, it is giving way to an Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon supercouncil.

Some of Banbridge district’s existing councillors will take up their seats on the new authority; others will not, and for them, boasting between them more than 106 years of service, Friday’s event will feature a retirement presentation.

For three-time chairman, Councillor Joan Baird, it marks the end of a 30-year tenure, matched year-for-year by Councillor David Herron. Councillor John Hanna has 22 years of service behind him, Councillor Jim McElroy, 19. Relative newcomer, Councillor Olive Mercer has served for five years, and Councillor Francesca McQuaid’s four months on council round off many years of service by her late mother, Councillor Sheila McQuaid, and her father, Councillor Frank McQuaid, before that.

Councillors Mercer, Hanna, McElroy, Herron and Baird are among nine former chairmen, including Councillors Junior McCrum, Elizabeth Ingram, Ian Burns and Seamus Doyle, who will address the meeting.

With just three years on the council, Councillor Glenn Barr said he would always remember the local authority as one that had been prudent while at the same time providing “much-needed resources and financial assistance” to residents.

Paying tribute to all who had taken up what he called the challenge for civic leadership in Banbridge District Council, Mr Barr spoke fondly of working with council stalwarts - such as John Hanna, David Herron, Joan Baird and Jim McElroy - whom he credited with having provided leadership during the dark days of the Troubles.

Though arguably over-used, ‘end of an era’ was for Dromore’s Paul Rankin the only appropriate expression for Banbridge council’s impending exit.

Recently named an Alderman of the new ABC council, Mr Rankin was elected to Banbridge District Council in the Dromore by-election of 2000 and, reflecting on 15 years as one of its members, his verdict on the council was that it had worked well and cohesively to the benefit of residents.

“Everyone has their own opinion as to how the council has served them,” he said. “For some people maybe their only connection to the council is seeing their bins lifted, but they don’t see the bigger picture; they don’t see all that it does.

“There’s no perfect local government administration; we all make mistakes or decisions that aren’t going to please everyone, but on balance, by and large Banbridge council served its area and its community well.

“There has been controversy and conflict at times but overall the council worked well across party lines. Compared to some councils, relationships between parties were mostly amicable and councillors mostly got on with serving their constituents.”

It had been a council blessed, he said, with some “huge” characters, among them Councillor Baird and the late Councillor Wilfred McFadden, and he paid tribute to all those who would not be going forward as part of the new administration, wherein local representatives would have to strive, he said, to ensure small and isolated communities did not get swallowed up, their needs overlooked.

“In a sense, yes,” he said, “it will be sad to see Banbridge council amalgamated, but in another sense there are exciting times going forward and of course the building will still be in use and the identity of each of the three councils is maintained in the name.”