Belfast Telegraph

By-election looms for Castlereagh seat

By Lauren Mulvenny

Castlereagh voters are to decide who fills the council seat left empty by the resignation of Iris Robinson.

A by-election was left as the only viable way to find a replacement after two councillors objected to the DUP preferred candidate.

Independent Charlie Tosh and Alliance member Geraldine Rice raised their concerns at a special council meeting, held in Upper Galwally on Monday, February 22.

And despite DUP claims of a cost to ratepayers of up to £30,000, Alderman Rice said a by-election would cost no more than £0.07 per household and was “what the people wanted”.

Former councillor Iris Robinson resigned from the local authority following concerns over her financial dealings, in connection with her teenage lover Kirk McCambley.

It is alleged Iris Robinson, a then Castlereagh councillor, solicited £50,000 from two property developers in 2008 to bankroll the cafe at the Lock Keeper’s Inn and then failed to disclose her interest when the lease was awarded by Castlereagh Council.

The DUP had hoped to co-opt its candidate Sharon Skillen, with the support of members.

Stating that Mrs Robinson resigned due to health reasons, Councillor Jimmy Spratt highlighted the concern the council had previously shown both Councillors Rice and Tosh, suspending standing orders allowing them to retain their seats when they were absent due to illness.

Councillor Spratt added that in 2006 it was agreed unanimously by councillors that there would be no by-elections to fill vacancies on the council and, as this minute had not been rescinded, the minute still stood.

But the acting chief executive informed councillors that, according to electoral law, co-option could only take place if there was no objections.

First to object was Councillor Tosh, who said “as we live in a democratic society” people deserved the right to vote.

The objection was closely following by Councillor Rice, who said now was a time to “restore people's deeply damaged public confidence in politics”.

She added: “A by-election is essential. People want to have their say and we want to give them this opportunity.”

But the DUP hit back at what it termed “petty politicking” that would affect Castlereagh ratepayers.

In a statement released after the meeting Councillor Spratt said: “It is regrettable that for the sake of petty politicking, the ratepayers of the borough are to be landed with a bill of some £30,000 to cover the costs of a by-election.”

It is unclear when a by-election will take place.

If it is called before the general election it will be an early indication of how the Robinson scandal has affected the party in Castlereagh.

Meanwhile, Castlereagh Borough Council has moved to quash rumours its offices were raided by police last Saturday night.

Releasing a statement on behalf of the acting chief executive, solicitor Denis Moloney said the police visit was agreed in advance and there was “nothing sinister” in it.

He added: “This visit was by agreement on Saturday so as not to inconvenience the normal working arrangements at the council offices.

“All relevant personnel were aware of the visit and co-operated fully and transparently as has been the case from the start of the investigation.

“Any records removed were computer records and this required IT personnel working in conjunction with the police IT personnel.”

Mr Moloney again reiterated that the council will continue to “co-operate fully” with the current investigation, bringing it “to a swift and complete conclusion”.

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