34 complaints against Northern Ireland councillors last year, two of which were upheld
Complaints were made about 31 councillors in Northern Ireland this year.
The 2016/17 total of 34 complaints is one more than the total made to Local Government Commissioner for Standards Marie Anderson during the previous year, and relates to 7% of the 462 councillors here.
Of the complaints, just two resulted in sanctions being taken against the councillor concerned, while 15 were closed at the assessment stage with no action taken, and six were taken for investigation. Two of these were dealt with by alternative action, a method that allows for the case to be settled prior to a hearing through, for example, an apology from a councillor.
The figures are included in the Local Government Commissioner for Standards’ annual report on complaints, investigations and adjudications for 2016-17, which was published yesterday.
The two cases that were taken to a full public hearing at which councillors received a sanction, included one against councillor Patrick Clarke from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
He was disqualified from being a councillor for three years after a ruling by the acting commissioner that his court conviction for fraud, criminal damage and a sexual offence brought the council into disrepute.
The other case saw Causeway Coast and Glens councillor Padraig McShane suspended for three months after he displayed an Irish tricolour and a Palestinian flag in the council chamber in Coleraine.
A complaint was made to the commissioner after a photograph of Mr McShane appeared in three local newspapers.
Meanwhile, Lisburn and Castlereagh councillor Jim Dillon made a public apology following allegations that he made physical threats and verbally abused a fellow councillor during a function in March 2016.
The commissioner is responsible for the investigation and adjudication of complaints about alleged breaches of the Northern Ireland Local Government Code of Conduct for Councillors. “When my office receives allegations against a councillor we look to see if there is enough evidence to warrant an investigation into whether there was a breach of the code,” said Ms Anderson. This year’s annual report for the first time contains case studies to illustrate the types of complaints we receive and how we deal with them.
“These will help to improve understanding of the code and its requirements, and also provide learning for councillors as the ethical standards framework becomes embedded in local government.”