Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein woman who raised 'unionist abuse' reported to watchdog

By Allan Preston

A DUP councillor has said he will report a Sinn Fein member for speaking out about a "hostile" environment at monthly meetings.

Patrice Hardy said she dreads attending monthly meetings of the unionist-dominated Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, saying she is often subject to verbal abuse.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill has supported her, calling the alleged behaviour of some unionist councillors "discrimination, aggression and misogyny".

Greg McKeen, DUP group leader on the council, said he was "stunned" by Ms Hardy's allegations.

"This is so way off the mark and damaging to the reputation of Mid and East Antrim that I feel I have no alternative other than to report councillor Hardy to the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards," he said.

"Patrice Hardy has let herself down badly on this, and she has also let down the people of Mid and East Antrim, a borough which is open and inclusive of all."

SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan, however, said the council had been guilty of showing a lack of respect to nationalist and republican members.

"There's no doubt that Mid and East Antrim Council behaves in a very one-sided fashion in terms of its decision making, especially around symbolic issues," he said.

"It's extremely unionist in character and very dismissive of issues that are coming from a nationalist or republican perspective.

"Certainly at times that does tip over into a lack of respect for representatives from the SDLP or Sinn Fein."

Ulster Unionist councillor for Ballymena, Stephen Nicholl, urged Ms Hardy to clarify her comments.

Posting on Twitter, he said: "The UUP or Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has never engaged in misogynistic or sectarian behaviour and I would ask that the generalist comments made should be withdrawn."

On Tuesday, councillors from several parties - The DUP, UUP, Alliance and one independent - said they disagreed there could be a hostile atmosphere at council meetings.

Ms Hardy said was "sorely disappointed" at the unionist response.

"I decided to speak out about the constant abuse I have had to contend with from fellow councillors because I believe that no one, in any walk of life, should be expected to put up with it," she said.

"The constant jeering, the snide remarks, the bullying and misogynistic comments should not be tolerated and I had hoped that by speaking out, there would have at least been an acknowledgement that such behaviour is wrong.

"I was to be sorely disappointed because the reaction of the DUP and TUV in particular has been to ridicule my assertions and even report me to the Standards Commissioner for having the audacity to highlight them."

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