A bombshell investigation into the conduct of Belfast’s Lord Mayor is in its “final stages” - less than two weeks before the current First Citizen is to step down, it can be revealed.
In March 2016, a total of 31 unionist and nationalist councillors reported Nuala McAllister to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman regarding a 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 stuff with cash.
BCC passed an Alliance motion in December 2016, pledging that all future meetings would be audio recorded.
Sinn Fein supported the resolution, while the DUP, SDLP and UUP opposed it, on the grounds that they had received legal advice warning there would be serious penalties for councillors if they made mistaken comments during planning meetings.
When the leaflet was distributed in March 2016, senior DUP, SDLP and UUP councillors alleged that Councillor McAllister had broken the Councillors Code of Conduct for publishing what they alleged was “defamatory material”.
“This disgraceful leaflet carries the innuendo of financial corruption and bribery,” DUP councillor Brian Kingston said at the time.
The now-Lord Mayor of Belfast is approaching the end of her term and will officially step down in less than two weeks at June’s annual meeting of the council.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Ombudsman said their investigation surrounding the pamphlet, which is already far beyond the regulation target time for such probes, was near completion.
“We received a complaint in which allegations were made about the contents of a pamphlet issued in 2016,” the spokesperson 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 Nuala McAllister was nominated to be the next Lord Mayor last year, several councillors raised concerns regarding the fact she was currently under investigation for misconduct.
In June 2017, the Alliance Party hit back at critics they claimed were “bullying” a young politician for standing up for “openness and transparency” at Belfast City Council.
On Wednesday, the Alliance Party said they would not be commenting on the investigation as it is ongoing.
SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said: "While I’m not going to comment on the details of the investigation I do find it incredible that over two years on from the complaint being lodged we’ve yet to see any public findings.
“Even by the sometimes frustratingly slow place of the public sector this is stretching it and the time taken with this complaint to date is more than double the already generous timeframe provided to the Commissioner to conclude investigations.
“Over half the members of Belfast City Council signed this complaint and the serious nature of it was widely reported at the time.
“As a number of other non-related complaints have been lodged, investigated, and concluded during the intervening two years, I would think it’s fair to question why this complaint against the current Lord Mayor has taken so long.”
DUP councillor John Hussey said the investigation was the longest 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 said.
"Nuala McAllister has consistently refused to apologise or even to explain why she made these disturbing and unfounded accusations against her colleagues.
"Had Nuala apologised at the time, I'm sure the 31 cross-party councillors who submitted this complaint against her would not have felt the need to do so. The fact that she has stood by her accusations for over two years, with no evidence whatsoever, is the most disappointing thing of all."
Local News Partnership