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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 16:34 GMT
Two NI towns awarded city status
Lisburn is already celebrating
Lisburn is already celebrating
It was a tale of two new cities in Northern Ireland on Thursday.

Lisburn in County Antrim and the border town of Newry in County Down were celebrating after being granted city status in a competition to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

The towns were judged on their notable characteristics, their historical and royal connections and their progressive attitude.

Other towns in the running were Carrickfergus and Ballymena in County Antrim, Coleraine in County Londonderry and Craigavon in County Armagh.

The awards, together with other successful cities in England, Scotland and Wales, were announced by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, in London.

Dr John Reid: Congratulated new cities
Dr John Reid: Congratulated new cities

His department said: "On advice from the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, the Lord Chancellor exceptionally recommended, and Her Majesty agreed, that two towns in Northern Ireland be granted city status on this occasion."

Ulster Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson, the MP representing Lisburn, hit back at critics who dubbed it a "glorified extension" of Belfast.

"We are no mere suburb of Belfast. We are now the fastest growing city in Northern Ireland," he said.

Lisburn mayor Jim Dillon said the champagne was flowing in the borough.

"Lisburn is a premier area of Northern Ireland," he said.

Newry, which is on the border near the Republic of Ireland, was also celebrating its success.

SDLP MP for the area Seamus Mallon said it was a "great day" for the area.

"This is a great day for Newry and represents a strong recognition of the work which has taken place in the city in recent times," he said.

"I am delighted for its people, and look forward to a bright future for the city of Newry."

Sinn Fein had opposed the move to become a city because of the competition's links with the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

'Indictment'

However, council chairman Davy Hyland of Sinn Fein welcomed the decision.

"Royalism wouldn't be a very strong aspect of life here. The main thing is the recognition that it is now a city," he said.

Craigavon Mayor Samuel McAlister hit out at the decision to create two new cities - one mainly unionist and the other mainly nationalist.

"I think it's a sad indictment of Northern Ireland," he said.

"There we have the secretary of state who is still making divisions, while the people of Northern Ireland are trying to work together."

Ulster Unionist Robert Coulter, a former mayor of Ballymena, said he was "mystified" by the choice adding that the province needed a city in the north-east.

"I don't know what they were thinking about. I think it's a very poor decision," he added.

Millennium

City status is granted personally by the Queen on the advice of her ministers, and Letters Patent signed by Her Majesty will now be prepared.

Speaking from Washington, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid said he sent his "warmest congratulations to the people of Lisburn and Newry".

He said it was a tribute to the new Northern Ireland that two towns were chosen to be cities, showing "just how far we have come in economic and social regeneration during the peace process".
The Queen
The award will be conferred by the Queen

Under the rules of the competition, there is no change in the function or powers of the new cities.

"The grant of city status is purely honorific; it confers no additional powers or functions in the town," according to the guidelines.

Lisburn set up an all-party team in its attempt to get city status.

The second largest local authority in Northern Ireland, organisers said the town was "strategically placed" on the main Belfast-Dublin corridor.

Newry promoted itself as a future "city of culture", and highlighted the part the town had played in the history of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

"The gateway between the island's two jurisdictions, this frontier community has pioneered Northern Ireland's trade and commercial relationship with the Irish Republic," said organisers.

The competition was launched last July and a total of 42 towns throughout the UK applied.

The result means Northern Ireland boasts five cities: Belfast, Londonderry and Armagh, where city status was restored in 1994, and now Lisburn and Newry.

Only 17 new cities were declared in the United Kingdom in the last century.

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Louise Cullen reports
"The secretary of state was part of the team advising the Lord Chancellor"
See also:

14 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Campaign success for city status
13 Mar 02 | Scotland
City status for historic burgh
18 Dec 00 | UK
City winners named
14 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Picture gallery: City status
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