The new chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, the youngest councillor to take on the role, is to donate a portion of his salary to mental health charities to “put my money where my mouth is”.

Ulster Unionist Chris Smyth, a psychology researcher at Ulster University, made his remarks in his maiden speech during an unusual annual general meeting of the Council at Enniskillen Townhall on Tuesday night where he spoke to an almost empty chamber.

Listening in their homes around Fermanagh and Omagh were his Council colleagues who were following proceedings in their kitchens and living rooms remotely due to coronavirus restrictions.

Councillor Smyth, who replaces Sinn Fein’s Siobhan Currie, described the new role as “a great honour” and said he hoped young people will “take that difficult step and get involved in the political process” given his elevation.

Referring to Covid-19, he said constituency work has “changed considerably” since the pandemic began and added that “simple tasks such as getting a hearing aid battery or picking up medication have become more difficult for our citizens.”

“I have relied heavily on the goodwill and generosity of some people to help me achieve outcomes for constituents and I doubt I’m alone in that.

“As a result I think it fitting that I issue a heartfelt thank you to all those who have freely gave of their time and talents to support their community across the district and know that I and the Council greatly value your efforts alongside the key workers from all sectors who kept the wheels of society turning.”

Councillor Smyth told the meeting that Council business “must go on regardless of the pandemic.”

“The people of FODC have by and large been exceptionally responsible and sensible and I think that is one of the reasons why relative to other parts of Northern Ireland, our numbers are lower. All I can urge people to do is to continue to adhere to the social distancing regulations and not let their guard down. If we can continue to suppress the spread, we will emerge from this crisis with fewer deaths and quicker than if we have a disastrous second surge. I pray that this won't happen.”

He said he intended to “make a number of donations” to mental health causes which operate in the district “as a way of putting my money where my mouth is in this cause which I feel extremely passionate about.”

Councillor Smyth praised his Sinn Fein predecessor saying: “The chair adapted to the changed nature of the role that she found herself in. Her use of social media to continue to represent the Council and to provide updates has to be commended.

“I also think that the change in the way that we do business as a Council has placed an onus on the chairperson to adapt with it.

“The chairing of meetings electronically was a big change especially for some of the councillors who aren't tech-savvy and I do think that the previous chair has been accommodating to those Councillors who struggled at first with the format of the meetings,” he said.

He accepted that his time as chairman “will be less public than my predecessor.”

“I won't be able to meet as many people as I would have liked to. That said the position is a responsibility that I am ready to take on and I only hope that I will be able to do my constituents proud.

“I'm looking forward to the days when the Covid-19 crisis is over. I don't know when this will be but I hope that during my term we can get to a point where the normal things that we used to all take for granted can be returned to,” he said.