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Unionists 'alarmed' as Alliance chooses Lord Mayor at the centre of an Ombudsman probe

By Suzanne Breen

Unionists in Belfast City Hall have rounded on the Alliance Party for nominating a candidate as Lord Mayor who is under investigation for allegedly breaching the code of conduct for council members.

A total of 31 unionist and nationalist councillors last year reported Nuala McAllister to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman over a pamphlet in which they claim she made "grossly unfair and untrue" allegations of corruption by some councillors on planning issues.

Ms McAllister is due to be installed as Belfast's fourth female Lord Mayor tonight.

Sources told the Belfast Telegraph that the Ombudsman's investigation into her has been completed, but the report is still being written up.

The 28-year-old, who has a nine-month-old baby son, will become the first young mother to wear the mayoral chain of office.

Alliance council group leader Michael Long last night strongly defended her right to hold the position despite the investigation, and accused unionists of "feeling threatened" by an up-and-coming young woman.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said that his party group was "shocked and alarmed" that Alliance had nominated Ms McAllister for the post "in view of her being the subject of a live Ombudsman's investigation".

Mr Rodgers said: "It's up to Alliance who they put forward, but the UUP would never propose someone who was under investigation for allegedly breaching the code of conduct for council members."

The veteran UUP member said that Ms McAllister had been reported to the Ombudsman in March 2016, and he was concerned that the investigation process was taking so long to complete.

A spokesman for the Ombudsman said he currently had "no comment" to make on any aspect of the investigation.

DUP councillor Graham Craig said: "Either the Alliance Party has nobody else to put up as mayor, or they have no respect for the 31 councillors who complained about Nuala McAllister.

"It was a cross-community complaint which included SDLP, UUP, DUP, TUV and PUP councillors. The holier-than-thou Alliance Party is showing contempt for us all.

"If any other party put forward a councillor for mayor, who was under investigation by the Ombudsman, Alliance would be screaming about it.

"The party has obviously one rule for all outside its bubble, and another for itself."

However, Mr Long said that it was "no surprise" that unionist councillors would "seek to undermine a bright, capable Alliance woman who is increasing her political profile and standing in the city".

He continued: "When my wife Naomi became Lord Mayor, unionists voiced all sorts of objections too.

"Alliance is very proud to nominate Nuala, and if other parties feel threatened it's up to them to deal with it."

Mr Long declined to comment on the Ombudsman's investigation into Ms McAllister, saying that to do so would be "a breach of the investigation protocol".

The controversy centres on an article in Alliance literature headlined 'What have they got to hide' in which Ms McAllister criticised those parties that opposed the audio-recording of planning committee meetings being made public.

An accompanying photograph was of a jar stuffed with banknotes.

Speaking just after the pamphlet was published last year, DUP councillor Brian Kingston said: "This disgraceful leaflet carries the innuendo of financial corruption and bribery.

"If Alliance has any allegations to make, they should go to the police.

"Otherwise, they should withdraw their claims and apologise to councillors who sit on the planning committee.

"This is gutter politics from the nasty party."

The literature followed the council passing an Alliance resolution three months earlier pledging that all future planning committee meetings be recorded on audio in order to ensure transparency.

Sinn Fein supported the resolution, which the SDLP and unionist councillors opposed.

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