Belfast City Council

Comhairle Cathrach Bhéal Feirste
Bilfawst Citie Cooncil
Coat of arms or logo
Council logo
Ryan Murphy, Sinn Féin
Áine Groogan, Green Party
Political groups
Executive (25)
  Sinn Féin (22)
  Green (NI) (3)
Opposition (35)
  DUP (14)
  Alliance (11)
  SDLP (5)
  UUP (2)
  PBP (1)
  TUV (1)
  Independent (1)
Last election
18 May 2023
Next election
Meeting place
Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Council (Irish: Comhairle Cathrach Bhéal Feirste) is the local authority with responsibility for part of the city of Belfast, the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland. The council serves an estimated population of 341,877 (2019),[1] the largest of any district council in Northern Ireland, while being the smallest by area. Belfast City Council is the primary council of the Belfast Metropolitan Area, a grouping of six former district councils with commuter towns and overspill from Belfast, containing a total population of 579,276.[2]

The council is made up of 60 councillors, elected from ten district electoral areas. It holds its meetings in the historic Belfast City Hall. The current Lord Mayor is Ryan Murphy of Sinn Féin.[3]

As part of the 2014/2015 reform of local government in Northern Ireland the city council area expanded, and now covers an area that includes 53,000 additional residents in 21,000 households.[4] The number of councillors increased from 51 to 60. The first elections to the expanded city council took place on 22 May 2014.[5]


Main article: History of Belfast

Belfast's modern history can be dated back to the Plantation of Ulster in the early 17th century which brought significant numbers of Protestant Scottish and English settlers to Ulster. The town gradually developed to become a major industrial centre, in particular in the areas of linen and ship building. In recognition of this growth Belfast was granted city status in 1888 and by 1901, it was the largest city in Ireland. The city's importance was evidenced by the construction of the lavish City Hall, completed in 1906.

The body now known as Belfast City Council has its origins in the defunct Belfast Corporation, and was created in its current form following the local council elections of May 1973. Originally it was intended that there would be 52 wards. However, local enquiries meant that the proposed Tullycarnet ward became instead the Castlereagh Borough Council wards of Tullycarnet and Gilnahirk, leaving Belfast with 51. Although the county borough of Belfast was created when it was granted city status by Queen Victoria in 1888,[6] the city continues to be viewed as straddling County Antrim and County Down with the River Lagan generally being seen as the line of demarcation.[7]

From the late 18th century onwards, the city's Roman Catholic population gradually increased, although the city was still dominated by its mostly Ulster Protestant majority. The council was dominated by unionists from its inception until 1997, when they lost overall control for the first time in its history, with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland gaining the balance of power between Irish nationalists and unionists. This position was confirmed in the three subsequent council elections, with mayors from the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and the cross-community Alliance Party regularly elected since 1997. The election in 2011 saw Irish nationalist councillors outnumber unionist councillors for the first time, 24–21, with Sinn Féin becoming the largest party, and the Alliance Party maintaining the balance of power with six members. The 2011 census findings confirmed this significant change in demographics. In the Belfast City Council area, the proportion of people who were Catholic or brought up Catholic (48.58%) is larger than those who were Protestant or brought up Protestant (42.30%) for the first time.[8] In terms of national identity 43.16% of the population considered themselves to be British, 34.77% considered themselves to be Irish, and 26.82% considered themselves to be of Northern Irish nationality.[9]

Coat of arms and motto

See also: Coat of arms of Belfast

The city of Belfast has the Latin motto "Pro tanto quid retribuamus." This is taken from Psalm 116 Verse 12 in the Latin Vulgate Bible and is literally "For (Pro) so much (tanto) what (quid) we shall repay (retribuamus)" The verse has been translated in bibles differently – for example as "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?".[10] It is also translated as "In return for so much, what shall we give back?"[11] The Queen's University Students' Union Rag Week publication PTQ derives its name from the first three words of the motto.

The coat of arms of the city (pictured, above right) are blazoned as Party per fesse argent and azure, in chief a pile vair and on a canton gules a bell argent, in base a ship with sails set argent on waves of the sea proper. This heraldic language describes a shield that is divided in two horizontally (party per fesse). The top (chief) of the shield is silver (argent), and has a point-down triangle (a pile) with a repeating blue-and-white pattern that represents fur (vair). There is also a red square in the top corner (a canton gules) on which there is a silver bell. It is likely that the bell is an example here of "canting" (or punning) heraldry, representing the first syllable of Belfast. In the lower part of the shield (in base) there is a silver sailing ship shown sailing on waves coloured in the actual colours of the sea (proper). The supporter on the "dexter" side (that is, the viewer's left) is a chained wolf, while on the "sinister" side the supporter is a sea-horse. The crest above the shield is also a sea-horse. These arms date back to 1613, when King James I granted Belfast town status. The seal was used by Belfast merchants throughout the 17th century on their signs and trade-coins.[12] A large stained glass window in the City Hall displays the arms, where an explanation suggests that the seahorse and the ship refer to Belfast's significant maritime history. The wolf may be a tribute to the city's founder, Sir Arthur Chichester, and refer to his own coat of arms.[12]


The latest election to Belfast City Council took place on 18 May 2023, with the city's voters electing sixty councillors.

Party strengths

Party Elected
Sinn Féin 19 18 22
DUP 13 15 14
Alliance 8 10 11
SDLP 7 6 5
Green (NI) 1 4 3
People Before Profit 1 3 1
UUP 7 2 2
PUP 3 2 0
TUV 1 0 1
Independent 0 0 1

Historical composition

Parties' election performances have changed substantially since the council election in 1973. The Ulster Unionist Party made a strong initial showing and remained the largest unionist party until 2005, when the Democratic Unionist Party became the dominant unionist party, while Sinn Féin has become the largest party overall. Nationalist representation showed a steady increase until recently, however still managed to become the largest grouping in the 2011 election. The number of unionist councillors has fallen almost every election. Cross-community representation has increased somewhat rapidly over the last few elections, almost overtaking the unionist representation in the 2019 election.

Shows the percentage of seats given to unionist, nationalist and other candidates in elections to Belfast City Council. The Alliance Party has been included as "other" in all years.
Party 2023 2019 2014 2011 2005 2001 1997 1993 1989 1985 1981 1977 1973
Sinn Féin 22 18 19 16 14 14 13 10 8 7 0 0 0
DUP 14 15 13 15 15 10 7 9 8 11 15 7 2
Alliance 11 10 8 6 4 3 6 5 6 8 7 13 8
UUP 2 2 7 3 7 11 13 15 14 14 13 15 25
SDLP 5 6 7 8 8 9 7 9 8 6 6 8 7
PUP 0 2 3 2 2 3 3 1 1 1 1 0 0
Other 6[a] 7[b] 3[c] 1[d] 1[e] 1[f] 2[g] 2[h] 6[i] 4[j] 9[k] 8[l] 9[m]
Total 60 60 60 51 51 51 51 51 51 51 51 51 51


Councillors by electoral area

For further details see 2023 Belfast City Council election.

The council area is subdivided into 60 electoral wards, nominally one for each elected councillor. However, as the PR-STV voting system requires multi-seat constituencies, the 60 wards are grouped into ten district electoral areas (DEA) which elect between five and seven councillors each:

The current members are:

Current council members
District electoral area Name Party
Balmoral Geraldine McAteer Sinn Féin
Donal Lyons SDLP
Tara Brooks Alliance
Sarah Bunting DUP
Micky Murray Alliance
Black Mountain Ciarán Beattie Sinn Féin
Micheal Donnelly Sinn Féin
Arder Carson Sinn Féin
Ronan McLaughlin Sinn Féin
Paul Doherty SDLP
Áine McCabe Sinn Féin
Róis-Máire Donnelly Sinn Féin
Botanic Gary McKeown SDLP
Tracy Kelly DUP
Emmet McDonough-Brown Alliance
John Gormley Sinn Féin
Áine Groogan Green (NI)
Castle Brónach Anglin Sinn Féin
Conor Maskey Sinn Féin
Fred Cobain DUP
Dean McCullough DUP
Sam Nelson Alliance
Carl Whyte SDLP
Collin Joe Duffy Sinn Féin
Caoimhín McCann Sinn Féin
Matt Garrett Sinn Féin
Séanna Walsh Sinn Féin
Clíodhna Nic Bhranair Sinn Féin
Michael Collins People Before Profit
Court Frank McCoubrey DUP
Tina Black Sinn Féin
Nicola Verner DUP
Claire Canavan Sinn Féin
Ian McLaughlin DUP
Ron McDowell TUV
Lisnasharragh Davy Douglas DUP
Bradley Ferguson DUP
Michael Long Alliance
Eric Hanvey Alliance
Séamas De Faoite SDLP
Brian Smyth Green (NI)
Oldpark Nichola Bradley Sinn Féin
Paul McCusker Independent
JJ Magee Sinn Féin
Ryan Murphy Sinn Féin
Tomás Ó Néill Sinn Féin
Jordan Doran DUP
Ormiston Christine Bower Alliance
James Lawlor DUP
Andrew McCormick DUP
Jenna Maghie Alliance
Ross McMullan Alliance
Anthony Flynn Green (NI)
Jim Rodgers Ulster Unionist
Titanic Ruth Brooks DUP
Sammy Douglas DUP
David Bell Alliance
Fiona McAteer Alliance
Pádraig Donnelly Sinn Féin
Sonia Copeland Ulster Unionist


Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor

Lord Mayor of Belfast
Ryan Murphy, Sinn Féin
since 5 June 2023
StyleThe Right Honourable[16]
AppointerBelfast City Council
Term lengthOne year
Inaugural holderSir Daniel Dixon
DeputyDeputy Lord Mayor of Belfast

The Lord Mayor of Belfast is the leader and chairman of Belfast City Council and is elected annually by the council to serve a one-year term. A Deputy Lord Mayor is normally elected at the same council meeting as the Lord Mayor.

The Lord Mayor's role is largely ceremonial, but does include the following powers and duties:[17]

The position that is now the Lord Mayor originated in 1613 in the town's Royal Charter as the 'Sovereign of Belfast'. In 1842, this position was restyled the 'Mayor of Belfast'. When Belfast was granted city status in 1892, the position was given Lord Mayor status, making it one of only three cities on the island of Ireland having a Lord Mayor, the other two being Cork and Dublin. In 1929, it became one of only six cities in the United Kingdom to have a Lord Mayor styled "the Right Honourable". Until 1973 the position was held for three years, when it was reduced to its current term of one year. From its formation in 1921 until its abolition in 1972, the Lord Mayor was automatically entitled to a seat in the Senate of Northern Ireland.

For most of the city's modern history, the position has been held by unionists, with members of the Ulster Unionist Party holding the post for a total of 61 of the 67 years between 1921 and 1997. The first non-unionist Lord Mayor since the partition of Ireland in 1921 was David Cook from the Alliance Party, who was elected in 1978. The first Irish nationalist Lord Mayor was not appointed until the election of Alban Maginness from the SDLP in 1997, while a Sinn Féin Lord Mayor was first elected in 2002. The end of the unionist majority on the council in 1997 has resulted in a greater rotation of the position amongst the parties, which, like other elected positions within the Council such as Committee chairs, is now filled using the D'Hondt system. This system awards positions to parties based on their number of councillors.


The Local Government (Modification of Borough Charters) Order (Northern Ireland) 1973 entitles the council to appoint up to twelve of its members to the honorary position of alderman. The role of alderman is appointed at the first annual meeting following the election of the council and does not carry any extra responsibilities other than the right to be referred to as an alderman rather than councillor. Following the local elections in 1997[18] and 2005[19] the Council voted not to appoint any of its members to the positions, however all twelve places were filled after the May 2011 election.[20]

The present Alderman are:[21]

Name District Electoral Area (DEA) Party
George Dorrian Titanic Democratic Unionist Party
Frank McCoubrey Court Democratic Unionist Party
Sonia Copeland Titanic Ulster Unionist Party
Tommy Sandford Lisnasharragh Democratic Unionist Party
Jim Rodgers OBE Orminston Ulster Unionist Party
Tom Haire Orminston Democratic Unionist Party

High Sheriff

High Sheriff of Belfast
John Kyle (UUP)
since February 2022
StyleHigh Sheriff[22]
AppointerSecretary of State
(on the advice of the Council)
Term lengthOne year
Inaugural holderSir James Henderson

The High Sheriff of Belfast is a largely ceremonial position currently held by John Hussey who took office on 2 February 2022. The High Sheriff is theoretically the King's judicial representative in the city, while the Lord Lieutenant is the Sovereign's personal representative, however the office is now largely symbolic with few formal duties other than deputising for the Lord Mayor at official events. The position was created in 1900 under the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, with Sir James Henderson the first holder. Appointments are made on annual basis by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who asks the outgoing High Sheriff and the council to suggest the names of three people who are deemed suitable to hold the position. In recent years the council has suggested only one candidate, who is normally a member of the council.[23] The High Sheriff's term of office runs from January to December, which is distinct from the term of office for the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor who take up office in May or June each year.

Lord Lieutenant

The Lord Lieutenant of Belfast is the official representative of the King for the 'County Borough of Belfast'. The Lord Lieutenant is Dame Finnouala Jay-O'Boyle, DBE who was appointed in July 2014. The position was first created in 1900 and was held by the Marquess of Londonderry. The role is largely honorary with the few formal duties relating to liaising with the King's Private Office in the lead up to visits to the City regarding issues of local concern and the presentation of awards on behalf of the King.[24]

2014/2015 reform

The district councils of Northern Ireland were reformed in 2015. The councillors elected on 5 May 2011 served on Belfast City Council until 31 March 2015. At the local elections on 22 May 2014 a new Belfast City Council was elected and acted as a shadow authority until coming into its powers on 1 April 2015. The local government district of Belfast was expanded on 1 April 2015 to the south to include areas formerly part of the Castlereagh, Lisburn and North Down districts.[4] The new electoral areas are Balmoral, Black Mountain, Botanic, Castle, Collin, Court, Lisnasharragh, Oldpark, Ormiston and Titanic.[25]

Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies

Belfast has four coterminous constituencies for the UK Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, which extend somewhat beyond the city boundaries into parts of Castlereagh, Lisburn and Newtownabbey districts. At the 2019 UK general election, Belfast returned four MPs for the following constituencies: Belfast North (John Finucane, Sinn Féin), Belfast East (Gavin Robinson, DUP), Belfast South (Claire Hanna, SDLP) and Belfast West (Paul Maskey, Sinn Féin).

In the 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly election, Belfast returned a total of 20 MLAs (five per constituency) for the constituencies of Belfast North, Belfast East, Belfast South and Belfast West. Prior to the 2017 election, each constituency elected six MLAs or a total of 24 MLAs for Belfast.

The results for both elections are summarised below:

Party UK 2019 +/- NIA 2022 +/-
Sinn Féin 2 Increase 1 7 Steady
Democratic Unionist Party 1 Decrease 2 5 Steady
Social Democratic and Labour Party 1 Increase 1 1 Decrease 1
Alliance Party of Northern Ireland 0 Steady 5 Increase 2
Ulster Unionist Party 0 Steady 1 Steady
Other 0 Steady 1[a] Decrease 1 [b]
UK Parliament Northern Ireland Assembly
UK Constituency Name Party Parties
Belfast North John Finucane Sinn Féin
Belfast East Gavin Robinson DUP
Belfast South Claire Hanna SDLP
Belfast West Paul Maskey Sinn Féin


Waste collection vehicle, Arthur Street, Belfast, October 2009

The council has six committees, the members of which are appointed at the annual meeting of the council.

Each of the committees consists of 20 councillors with the quorum (the minimum number of councillors that are required to be present to transact business legally) of each committee being five members. Committees sit at least monthly with the exception of July. All committees are constituted to reflect, as far as practicable, the different political groups into which the members of the council are divided. The posts of chairman and deputy chairman of committees are allocated on the basis of the d'Hondt system of proportionality:


Minutes of meetings of council committees and subcommittees are available at Belfast City Council (searchable) and at Belfast NI Gov Wiki (unofficial site).

Council departments

The council has seven departments.

Department Activities See also Link
Chief Executive's Responsible for providing support to the Lord Mayor and councillors in their roles as public representatives. [1]
Corporate Services Responsible for human resources, financial services and information systems. Also oversees the registration of births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships. [2]
Development Responsibilities include:
– Community and play development
– Culture and heritage
– Economic development
– Events
– Physical regeneration
– Tourism
– Venue Management
St George's Market
Ulster Hall
Waterfront Hall
[5] Archived 15 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
[6] Archived 11 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
Health and Environmental Services Works to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all who live in the city or who come into the city each day to work or visit. Also has important waste management responsibilities, including promoting waste reduction and recycling and making arrangements for the collection, treatment and disposal of waste. [10]
Improvement Responsible for developing and delivering a single improvement and efficiency agenda for the organisation. [11]
Legal Services Provides comprehensive legal advice to the council. [12]
Parks and Leisure Maintain the city's green spaces and organising park events and activities. They also work to promote some of Belfast's biggest tourist attractions and manage many of the council's major assets. Belfast Zoo
Belfast Botanic Gardens
Belfast Castle
Belfast City Cemetery
Parks and gardens in Belfast


The area covered by the current Belfast City Council has a population of 333,871 residents according to the 2011 Northern Ireland census. The area covered by the old Belfast City Council before the 2015 local government reorganisation in Northern Ireland had a population of 280,962 residents according to the same census.[26]

In the 2011 census the distributions of population, religion, national identity and proportion of immigrants within the Belfast City Council area were as follows.

See also



  1. ^ "Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, 2021". Office for National Statistics. 2 November 2022. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  2. ^ "Statistical Classification Band A - Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 April 2014. Retrieved 13 May 2012. Based on 2001 Census
  3. ^ Simpson, Mark (5 June 2023). "Green Party secures first ever Northern Ireland mayoral role". BBC News. Retrieved 6 June 2023.
  4. ^ a b "Reform of local government - Belfast City Council". Archived from the original on 31 December 2013. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  5. ^ "Belfast City Council". Archived from the original on 19 March 2014. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  6. ^ "Belfast City Hall". Discover Northern Ireland. Ireland Tourist Board. Archived from the original on 16 June 2007. Retrieved 18 May 2007.
  7. ^ "Belfast, Newcastle and the County Down Coast". County Down Northern Ireland. Archived from the original on 19 December 2008. Retrieved 17 January 2009.
  8. ^ Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, 2011 UK Census, Religion or Religion Brought Up in Archived 23 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, 2011 UK Census, National Identity (Classification 2) Archived 23 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ King James Bible, Psalm 116 Verse 12
  11. ^ "I reflected on the two mottos of Belfast and America – 'Pro Tanto Quid' and 'E Pluribus Unum'. I am reliably informed that these roughly translate as 'In return for so much, what shall we give back?' and 'From many, one'." Celebrating diversity Archived 4 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine, by Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Ekin
  12. ^ a b Brett, C.E.B. (1967). Buildings of Belfast, 1700–1914. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  13. ^ Whyte, Dr Nicholas. "Local Government Elections 1973 - 1981: Belfast". Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  14. ^ "Local Government Elections 1985-1989: Belfast". Archived from the original on 18 July 2018. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  15. ^ Whyte, Dr Nicholas. "Belfast City Council, 1993 - 2011". Archived from the original on 26 July 2018. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  16. ^ "How to address the Lord Mayor". Belfast City Council. Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2011.
  17. ^ "Belfast City Council. Councillors. Lord Mayor". Archived from the original on 7 June 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  18. ^ "Minutes of the Annual Meeting of Council, Monday, 2nd June, 1997" (PDF). Belfast City Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  19. ^ "Minutes of the Annual Meeting of Council, Thursday, 26th May, 2005" (PDF). Belfast City Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  20. ^ "Aldermen". Belfast City Council. Archived from the original on 30 May 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  21. ^ "Your councillors by party". Archived from the original on 6 August 2022. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  22. ^ "High Sheriff". Belfast City Council. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  23. ^ "Minutes of Monday, 1st November 2010". Belfast City Council. Archived from the original on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  24. ^ "Lord Lieutenants". The Royal Household. Archived from the original on 19 August 2012. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  25. ^ "Final Northern Ireland super council recommendations". BBC News. 13 December 2013. Archived from the original on 13 December 2019. Retrieved 2 June 2021.
  26. ^ "NI Census 2011 – Key Statistics Summary Report, September 2014" (PDF). NI Statistics and Research Agency. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 December 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2014.

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