Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Unionist who posed with fake explosives and fancy dress bin Laden faces alleged Code of Conduct breaches

By Joe Oliver

A politician who apologised after being pictured clutching fake explosives while posing with a party goer dressed as Osama bin Laden, is facing misconduct allegations.

Ulster Unionist Carol Black is believed to be the first councillor in Northern Ireland to face alleged breaches of the controversial new Code of Conduct.

The mother-of-two, who sits on Banbridge Council, told Sunday Life: "I'm being hounded from pillar to post over complaints that are completely frivolous."

If the two complaints against her are upheld she could be censured, suspended from being a councillor for one year or disqualified for a period of up to five years.

She has publicly said sorry for one of the incidents reported. Last November Ms Black apologised for offending war veterans and their families after she was pictured at a fancy dress party clutching fake explosives beside a reveller dressed as Osama bin Laden.

The photo provoked a furious backlash on social media and Ms Black at the time apologise for a "lapse in judgment".

She told Sunday Life: "Clearly there is an onus on all councillors to behave in a dignified and reasonable manner but this code intrudes totally on your private life.

"Any councillor could be accused of breaching the code if they were charged with a driving offence or involved in an extra marital affair.

"Everything you do in life, inside or outside the council chamber, is now up for scrutiny and yet under this ludicrous code there is absolutely no right of appeal.

"Councillors would be forced to seek a judicial review and that would involve crippling legal fees."

Councillor Black, who enjoyed a successful banking career over 20 years' work in Australia and Northern Ireland, is a former personal assistant to then UUP MLA Basil McCrea.

In 2008, she was awarded the Ulster Unionist Woman of the Year accolade - the same year she won the Dromore by-election to Banbridge council.

"Many of us were coerced into signing this code last year," she said.

"At the same time councillors believed it was similar to the old one. I blame the Minister (Mark Durkan) and his department for preparing this hugely intrusive code.

"Somehow I doubt if MLAs face the same sort of constraints or strictures now being imposed on local councillors," she added.

The body representing almost 600 councillors across Northern Ireland is taking legal advice over the local government Code of Conduct.

Furious members signalled the unprecedented legal move at a regional meeting of the National Association of Councillors and some even argued for strike action, which could have derailed the timetable for the first meeting of the 11 new super councils in April.

The new mandatory code -approved by the Assembly - was introduced in May 2014.

Ards UUP councillor Ronnie Ferguson, outgoing secretary of the National Association, told Sunday Life: "This code when you examine it is like something you might have experienced in the old Soviet Union."

One section of the code states that "you must not dis- close confidential information without the express consent of a person authorised to give such consent, or unless required to do so by law".

"That means there are very real fears that scandals could be cloaked by such blanket confidentiality," added Mr Ferguson.

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