Alliance pamphlet ignites furious row among Belfast councillors
'It's 100 times more scurrilous a leaflet than the one which Alliance so loudly complained about at the start of the flag protest'
An Alliance councillor is to be reported to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman over a pamphlet that is allegedly "more scurrilous" than unionist leaflets which fed the flames of the flag protest.
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that 31 Belfast councillors, including SDLP and unionist representatives, have signed a petition accusing Nuala McAllister of breaching the code of conduct for council members.
They claim she has made "grossly unfair and untrue" allegations of corruption by some councillors on planning issues.
However, the Alliance Party has hit back and claimed its critics are "bullying" a young politician who is standing up for "openness and transparency" at City Hall.
The row is due to surface at a planning committee meeting today.
Alliance councillor Michael Long strongly defended his colleague. "For the UUP and DUP to lecture anyone over leaflets is laughable. Those parties colluded to produce 40,000 leaflets that created an environment in which death threats were made against my wife (Naomi Long) and Alliance colleagues, not to mention attacks on our offices and protests throughout the country," he said.
It centres on an article in the Alliance Clarion newsletter headlined 'What have they got to hide?' in which Ms McAllister criticises those parties which opposed the audio-recording of planning committee meetings being made public. The accompanying photograph is of a jar stuffed with banknotes.
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."
Belfast City Council passed an Alliance motion in December pledging that all future planning committee meetings are to be recorded on audio in order to ensure transparency. Sinn Fein supported the resolution but the DUP, SDLP and UUP opposed it.
UUP councillor Jim Rodgers said: "Nuala McAllister's leaflets make it look like the councillors who opposed her party's motion did so because they're getting backhanders.
"We believe she has broken the local government code of conduct with this despicable slur.
"We voted against the proposal because of legal advice warning of serious penalties for councillors if they made mistaken statements during planning discussions.
"In my 23 years as a councillor I've never seen more irresponsible and defamatory material. It's 100 times more scurrilous a leaflet than the one which Alliance so loudly complained about at the start of the flag protest."
Mr Rodgers said the petition would be sent to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley.
Alliance is hoping Ms McAllister can win the party's first Stormont seat in North Belfast in May's election.
Mr Long claimed that Ms McAllister was being "bullied" for the "crime of highlighting that some political parties aren't as transparent as they would wish the public to believe".
He added: "Alliance won't be apologising for championing the need for openness in politics. And, unlike other parties, we put our names to our leaflets and openly stand by them."
Mr Long challenged the grounds on which the SDLP and unionists had opposed the audio-recording of meetings.
"Contrary to what they claim, there was no legal advice against putting recordings online for the public to access. They have now been online for three months without one issue," he said.
SDLP councillor Brian Heading, who sits on the planning committee, said he signed the petition complaining about Ms McAllister.
"The text of her article criticising us for opposing the audio-recording of planning committee meetings is fair comment but the accompanying photograph is not," he said.
"It calls into question our integrity. If Alliance admits it was wrong and publicly apologises, the issue is closed for me. If not, complaint procedures will be followed through."