DUP councillor suspended over 'serious' breach of code of conduct
A DUP councillor has been suspended for three months for deliberately attempting to circumvent rules on the disclosure and declaration of interests in what was found to be a "serious breach" of the local government code of conduct.
The investigation for the Local Government Commissioner for Standards also noted Coleraine Coast and Glens councillor George Duddy - a former Mayor of Coleraine - refused to attend a second interview with investigators and did not co-operated fully with the probe into his actions.
The DUP said the matter would be considered by its party officers.
At a hearing on Thursday the Commissioner Marie Anderson was informed Mr Duddy had a significant non-financial interest in Terrace Row Presbyterian Church, Coleraine.
The council had been renting a car park from the church for a number of years and in September 2016 it considered a rationalisation of parking in the town including ending its lease with the church.
Ahead of a discussion on the matter Councillor Duddy declared his interest and left the council chamber in accordance with the code. However he was found to have asked another councillor to raise issues and ask questions relating to the lease.
The commissioner found the action of asking another councillor to ask questions "on his behalf" was a deliberate attempt to circumvent the rules on disclosure and declaration of interest and represented "a serious breach of the code".
At a meeting later that month the councillor did not declare his interest, commented on the matter and voted in favour of extending the lease with the church.
The motion approved ending the lease, however, Ms Anderson noted that there would have been a significant financial benefit to the church if it had been agreed.
The Commissioner noted the previous good conduct of Councillor Duddy and exemplary public service record, as well as his willingness to learn from the events.
However, she stated that these were outweighed by the deliberate nature of the breaches. Given the requirement to uphold public confidence in the conduct of local councillors, and the importance of discouraging similar conduct by others, she believed that a three month suspension was a proportionate sanction.
A DUP spokesperson said: "The Party have been made aware and it will be considered by the party officers."
Belfast Telegraph Digital