Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Costly council by-election for Iris Robinson’s empty seat

A costly by-election is set to be held at Castlereagh Borough Council to fill the vacancy left by Iris Robinson.

Last night elected members on the DUP-dominated council were expected to discuss the matter when they met at the Upper Galwally chambers for the first full council meeting since Mrs Robinson resigned after admitting an affair and arranging for a loan to bankroll her teen ex-lover’s business.

All councillors were present, including Mrs Robinson’s son Gareth, who was noticeably absent from the special council meeting called earlier this month when his mother stepped down.

And while it was hoped some discussion surrounding the vacancy issue would take place, it did not. Instead of any debate taking place in public, the matter was held behind closed doors.

Earlier this month Mrs Robinson was forced to resign from her position after allegations were made about her financial dealings on behalf of her former young lover Kirk McCambley.

The scandal prompted the council to launch an independent inquiry to find out if any elected member of official committed any act of impropriety as a result.

Following the fallout from Mrs Robinson’s affair, independent councillor Charlie Tosh — who split from the DUP over his opposition to power-sharing at Stormont — said he would fight any attempt to co-opt another DUP member onto the council.

Currently councillors can be co-opted onto a council, but only if there is agreement between all elected members.

Ahead of last night’s meeting Mr Tosh said he was still opposed to co-option unless the DUP agreed to two conditions.

What those conditions were he would not divulge, but he was adamant that unless they conceded he would not support his former party’s attempt to usher in a replacement.

But if it did go ahead he said he would insist the replacement be an independent councillor. “When Iris Robinson tendered her resignation to the council it was after she was expelled from the DUP,” he insisted last night. “That means she would be classified as an independent councillor. If there was a co-opt, the seat should be filled by another independent.”

However a co-option remains very unlikely. The Alliance party and the UUP have said they would not support the move.

Before last night’s meeting Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice told the Belfast Telegraph her party would contest any attempt by the DUP to usher in a replacement.

This means ratepayers in Castlereagh will face a by-election which is estimated to cost around £22,000.

Prayers, apologies and missing minutes

It was the first time elected members had all met since Iris Robinson resigned, and for all intents and purposes, last night’s full Castlereagh council meeting went off smoothly.

Prayers were said at the start of the proceedings, apologies were made and items on the agenda were slowly ticked off.

It was just when councillors were asked to ratify the minutes from the special council meeting held in the wake of the Robinson scandal that things became a little heated.

It emerged officials had not furnished elected members with copies before the meeting began, prompting the wrath of the Alliance party and the UUP.

Things became even more animated when the DUP’s Jimmy Spratt mistakenly thought he had a copy but soon realised he did not. Debate then ensued over whether discussions should take place, given no-one had actually seen the minutes.

The chief executive then offered to provide members with copies but Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice objected saying it was not proper procedure. But after a bit more wrangling from all sides it was decided they could look at the minutes, they just would not discuss them in public — prompting a few chuckles from members of the public gallery who seemed like they were not too surprised by the outcome.

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