Belfast Telegraph

Complaints against Northern Ireland councillors surge 30%

Sean McGlinchey
Sean McGlinchey
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Councillors in Northern Ireland need to have "thicker skins" and more tolerance than ordinary citizens when it comes to criticism, a watchdog has said.

Local Government Commissioner for Standards Marie Anderson made the comments in her annual report, which reveals that complaints against local councillors soared by 30% last year.

In 2017-18 some 44 complaints were made against councillors, compared to just 34 in 2016-17.

Ms Anderson's remarks came after a complainant alleged that a councillor had referred to him as a "moron" in a Facebook post.

The complainant described this as disgusting, totally inappropriate and disrespectful. It was decided the councillor's remarks, even if disrespectful, were protected under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The report added: "Given the enhanced level of protection afforded to them in this area, politicians in turn are subject to wider limits of acceptable criticism and are required to have 'thicker skins' and have more tolerance than ordinary citizens."

In one of the cases that reached adjudication, the Commissioner concluded that there had been a breach of standards and applied a censure.

This was after the chief executive of Causeway Coast and Glens Council complained about councillor Sean McGlinchey in September 2015 after he criticised a council official during a meeting, and spoke with a raised voice and in an aggressive tone.

Prior to the meeting, Mr McGlinchey had asked the official for money to fund a community event in Dungiven, but later criticised how the official had dealt with his request.

In another case, a complaint was made that Lisburn and Castlereagh City councillor Andrew Girvin breached sections of the Code of Conduct relating to lobbying.

Mr Girvin had received a request to attend a meeting with a representative of a potential planning applicant.

However, rather than referring the request to a planning officer as required, he attended the meeting alone, failed to report the meeting to the planning officer and made no record of what was discussed. Mr Girvin later accepted that he had failed to comply with the Code of Conduct and was referred for further training on planning matters.

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