Belfast Telegraph

Belfast’s Lord Mayor received draft misconduct probe report five months ago, yet no results

By Andrew Madden, Local Democracy Reporter

Belfast's Lord Mayor received a draft investigation report into her alleged misconduct last year, however the final report has not yet been released, it has emerged.

With just two weeks before the Nuala McAllister is to step down, several councillors at City Hall have publicly asked why the probe has taken so long.

It has now emerged the Lord Mayor received a “draft investigation report” into complaints against her in December 2017, according to documents from the Northern Ireland Ombudsman’s office seen by this reporter.

More than two years ago in March 2016, a total of 31 unionist and nationalist councillors reported the current First Citizen to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman over an allegedly defamatory leaflet distributed on her behalf across north Belfast.

Under the headline “What have they got to hide?”, the then-Councillor criticised other parties which had opposed the audio recording of Planning Committee meetings at Belfast City Council.

Accompanying the article was a picture of a jar stuffed with cash.

In December 2016, the council passed an Alliance motion stating that all future meetings would be audio recorded.

The resolution was supported by Sinn Fein, but was opposed by the DUP, SDLP and UUP, on the grounds they had received legal advice warning of serious penalties for councillors should they make mistaken comments during any meetings.

When the leaflet was distributed, senior DUP, SDLP and UUP councillors alleged that Councillor McAllister had broken the Councillors Code of Conduct for publishing what they viewed as “defamatory material”.

The now-Lord Mayor of Belfast is approaching the end of her term and will step down in less than two weeks at June’s annual meeting of the council.

A spokesperson for the Ombudsman’s Office said: “Our investigation to determine whether there was any breach of the Councillors Code of Conduct with regards to an article within the pamphlet is in its final stages.”

When the 31-councillor complaint was filed, signed by what is more than half the entire sitting Council, the Alliance Party hit back at critics they claimed were “bullying” a young politician for standing up for “openness and transparency” at BCC.

On Wednesday, the Alliance Party said they would not be commenting on the investigation as it is ongoing, and for others to do so they would also be in breach of the Code of Conduct.

One of the lead complainants in the case, the DUP’s Ormiston representative John Hussey did not comment on the details of the case, but said the investigation was “already the longest investigation in the history of the Ombudsman’s Office”.

“They are investigating an election leaflet in which one councillor plainly accused other councillors of being corrupt,” he added, speaking on behalf of the 13 DUP councillors at City Hall.

“Nuala McAllister has consistently refused to apologise or even to explain why she made these disturbing and unfounded accusations against her colleagues.

“The fact that she has stood by her accusations for over two years, with no evidence whatsoever, is the most disappointing thing of all.”

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said that, although he wouldn’t comment on the details of the probe, he found it “incredible” that over two years have passed since the original complaint was filed and there are still no results.

“This complaint to date is more than double the already generous time frame provided to the Commissioner to conclude investigations,” he added.

“Over half the members of Belfast City Council signed this complaint and the serious nature of it was widely reported at the time.

"I would think it’s fair to question why this complaint against the current Lord Mayor has taken so long.”

Local News Partnership

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph