Belfast Telegraph

Dissident councillor Gary Donnelly could lose seat if he's jailed in graffiti case

By Donna Deeney

Dissident republican Gary Donnelly could be stripped of his seat on the Derry-Strabane super-council if a district judge imposes the maximum jail term available for painting political graffiti on the historic Derry Walls.

Donnelly was found guilty of criminal damage for defacing the walls with anti-internment slogans early this year.

His behaviour has already been described as not fitting for a public representative by the current Derry deputy mayor.

DUP councillor Gary Middleton said: "To have a criminal record isn't fitting, and to be charged in any form for anything – especially vandalism to his city's heritage – isn't fitting of a public representative at all." Another councillor on the new body said Donnelly had "placed himself completely beyond the pale" by his actions as far as the new authority was concerned.

District Judge Barney McElholm has ordered the councillor-elect and his two co-accused to pay £2,292 to repair the damage to the landmark walls or face jail.

Donnelly (43), from Iniscairn Road in the Creggan, was elected to the new Derry and Strabane council in May, three months after he and two other men were caught painting slogans on the walls.

Donnelly has insisted it would be hypocritical of him to pay because he was making a political statement against the system.

He also said it was his understanding that if his refusal to pay is met with a custodial sentence of more than six months, he could be stripped of his seat at the new council.

A Code of Conduct awaiting final approval sets out standards for all councillors elected to the seven new super-councils which come into existence next year.

The general rules on conduct include the "high standard of behaviour" the public has a right to expect.

It states that all councillors "must act lawfully" and that a serious breach of conduct carries a disqualification as a councillor or from becoming one for a period of five years.

It further states that as a councillor: "You have a duty to uphold the law and to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in you.

"You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your position as a councillor or your council into disrepute." Fellow representative on the new council, Ross Hussey, said if Donnelly refuses to pay then he could be in breach of the code of conduct and face possible expulsion.

He added: "He could argue I suppose that he carried out his actions before he was an elected member but this case is in court within his term as a councillor so he does have a duty to act within the law and obey the rule of the court."

He added: "Regardless of this, by his actions he showed a complete disregard for an iconic landmark that belongs to both communities and by doing so he placed himself completely beyond the pale."

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