Northern Ireland councillor to appeal suspension over picture beside Tricolour and Palestinian flag in chamber
A Northern Ireland councillor who was investigated after being pictured alongside an Irish Tricolour and the Palestinian flag in Coleraine council's chamber has been suspended for three months.
The controversy erupted in June 2015 after photographs emerged of independent councillor Padraig McShane and his guest Mohamed Al-Halabi, international director of co-operation for the municipality of Gaza, seated in the Coleraine council chamber - with the flags draped across the table in front of them.
An investigation was launched following unionist outrage to see if the code of conduct for councillors had been breached.
Mr McShane a member of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council was found to have committed four breaches of the code.
The councillor was been suspended for three months from November 28 and will not be allowed to attend council or committee meetings.
Mr McShane's lawyer has confirmed he will be appealing the decision to the High Court.
Acting commissioner for the Local Government Commissioner for Standards Sanctions Ian Gordon said: "The respondent had sought permission to show personal visitors the council chamber and Mayor’s parlour; he had not sought permission to display flags in the chamber.
"He was aware of the current sensitivity and issues around flags both in his council and elsewhere in Northern Ireland. This was a misuse of the council chamber and his subsequent publication of the photograph was an attempt to use his position as a councillor to secure a political advantage for himself or others.
"The surreptitious manner in which the flags were displayed demonstrates his disregard for his council’s developing policy on flags and was an improper use of the chamber. His deliberate actions and the subsequent publicity, generated by himself, were likely to cause controversy and brought the role of a councillor and his council into disrepute.
"The respondent had embarked on a deliberate course of action which was politically motivated and contrary to what his council would expect from an elected member. He accepts that he has failed to comply with Paragraph 4.6 of the Code. "
Mr Gordon said Mr McShane's comments in the media during the investigation and his failure to appear at the hearing showed there was "no evidence that he has shown insight or reflection on any of his failures to comply".
He continued: "To the contrary, it appears from quotes in the media, attributed to the Respondent, that he is unconcerned about the outcome of his actions.
"Such conduct and lack of insight or understanding of the purpose of the code, gives rise to a question on the likelihood of further failures to comply with the code, on the part of the respondent."
In response to the suspension Mr McShane's lawyer said it was an attempt to "sanction an elected politician for expressing political views".
In a statement Michael Brentall Solicitors said Mr McShane will be appealing the decision to the High Court.
It said: "This decision on behalf of the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards to suspend our client for a period of three months, is an attempt to sanction an elected politician for expressing political views.
"This sanction is an attempt to silence our client and prevent him from properly representing his constituents. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the censuring of such views and is a disproportionate interference with his right to freedom of expression.
"We can confirm our client will be appealing this decision to the High Court.”