Northern Ireland

Bangor councillor nips out of meeting to get hitched

Pol Hayes and Ray McKimm Image copyright Ray McKimm
Image caption The couple began planning the ceremony two years ago in the expectation that they would be able to get married as in other parts of the UK

It was a short trip from civic duty to civil partnership for a newly-elected County Down councillor.

Councillor Ray McKimm and partner Pól Hayes booked their partnership ceremony at Bangor Castle some time ago.

Mr McKimm later discovered the first meeting of Ards and North Down Borough Council was scheduled for the same time as the ceremony on Wednesday.

Luckily, councillors agreed to put back the meeting to allow him to nip across the corridor to sign the legal papers.

As first reported in the County Down Spectator, Mr McKimm was taken aback by what happened next.

"The next moment took me by surprise - everybody broke into applause right across the chamber," he said.

'Mind shift'

The new councillor has taken this as a sign of changing attitudes.

"There's a mind shift right across the chamber here," he said.

The couple began planning the ceremony two years ago in the expectation they would be able to get married as in other parts of the UK.

Mr McKimm said they thought the law would change.

Image copyright Ray McKimm
Image caption Pól and Ray with Ray's daughters Eister and Hannah

He now hopes that, if there is no return to a Stormont executive, legislation allowing for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland will be introduced at Westminster.

Mr McKimm was elected as an independent candidate for Bangor Central in the the elections on 2 May.

He stood on a platform of urban regeneration for the seaside town, having worked on development projects for the World Health Organisation in the past.

"Bangor Council were very accommodating and were able to move the meeting to 1pm so I could nip out in the lunch break and sign our civil partnership papers and back in," he said.

'True English gentleman'

Wednesday's council meeting was one of the most important of the year as Alderman Bill Keery was appointed mayor.

The mayor is elected on the D'Hondt system, similar to that used to select ministers in the Stormont executive, and requires all the councillors to be present.

When the council's chief executive first mentioned the date of the meeting to Mr McKimm he said he thought: "I'm doing something that day and then 'Oh, my word!'"

Mr McKimm described partner Pól as "a true English gentleman" who backed him up during the election campaign and was "very supportive" when the clash of dates came to light.

The couple had mistakenly thought the elections would be held later in the year

Ray and Pól have invited 100 people to a celebration of their union on Saturday, including a picnic in a teepee.

"We are committed to each other as though it were a wedding," he told the BBC.

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