Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Councillor claims committee move an attempt to 'gag' him

Lesley houston

cteditorial@thect.co.uk

A ROW has broken out between North Down councillors over claims and counter-claims which have emerged following postings on Facebook.

Independent councillor Austen Lennon claimed attempts were being made to effectively gag him by the creation of a council committee to stop him making proposals.

He alleged he and DUP councillor Alex Easton were being targeted by Alan Chambers, an Independent councillor, who Mr Lennon said was behind the creation of a committee, due to be discussed at last night's (Tuesday's) council meeting.

However, Mr Chambers has denied any such intention and says he did not propose the committee's formation.

Mr Lennon said the committee request follows his motion to grant the Freedom of the Borough to the PSNI last year. "It's aimed at me and at Alex Easton as well," he said, after posting doctored pictures of himself and Mr Easton, with tape across their mouths on Facebook.

"It's all down to finding ways to stop us making proposals, it doesn't matter what proposals," he alleged.

"When I made the proposal many tried to find excuses but the main reason was because it had been made by me. I thought we have moved on from the 1970s in terms of democracy. The people want to know what's going on and our council hasn't moved on."

Mr Chambers meanwhile said he is considering legal action over Mr Lennon's Facebook post, stating it has upset him and his family.

Speaking before last night's committee, Mr Chambers said: "The committee that is being talked about has one function, and that is to come up with a policy on how we deal with granting the Freedom of the Borough motions. It's quite a big thing and not to be taken lightly and there's considerable cost to the ratepayers."

Mr Chambers said that when Mr Lennon made the PSNI FoB (Freedom of the Borough) motion, which he admitted was an acceptable request, Mr Lennon "went straight on to the PSNI website and told them".

"It put the council in a tight position and how could we not go head with it? He jumped the gun," he said.

Mr Chambers also said that it had not been him but Assembly member Peter Weir who had proposed a committee to deal with FoB motions.

"I always thought it was to be a one meeting committee, to devise a policy for Freedom of the Borough requests and civic receptions but it never got off the ground but that's what is being reformed or reconstituted tonight."

Mr Chambers also said he was in no position to attempt to gag someone like Alex Easton, "an MLA who has topped electoral polls".

Alex Easton declined to comment on the Facebook row but said he had submitted a notice of motion for the Freedom of the Borough for the Territorial Army which he said he expected to be deferred for a month once the new committee was established.

"I don't see anything that's going to stop that and I am happy enough for that to happen," he said.

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