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Suspended Mid and East Antrim chief Anne Donaghy to take legal action against council

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Anne Donaghy

Anne Donaghy

Anne Donaghy, chief exec of Mid & East Antrim council outside the council offices in Ballymena. Picture by Peter Morrison

Anne Donaghy, chief exec of Mid & East Antrim council outside the council offices in Ballymena. Picture by Peter Morrison

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Anne Donaghy

The suspended chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is to initiate discrimination proceedings against the local authority.

Anne Donaghy was suspended on Thursday, while an investigation continues into allegations of bullying and harassment within the council.

In a statement issued by her solicitor, KRW Law confirmed Ms Donaghy is now taking legal action against the council and is also planning to contest the suspension decision.

The law firm said Ms Donaghy has placed on record her “firm denial” of all “unsubstantiated allegations made against her in recent media reports”.

“We can confirm our client as a disabled person has initiated proceedings against the Council within the Disability Discrimination Act 1995,” the statement read.

“She is claiming discrimination on grounds of her sex, religious and political beliefs.

“She is making this formal announcement now in response to the unjustified decision to suspend her at a time when she is on sick leave.”

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The statement described the decision as “crass, insensitive and ... utterly predictable”.

“She will contest the suspension decision issued today and is confident that once due process is complete she will return to her position as Chief Executive.”

The council chief is currently on sick leave for stress but had signalled that she planned to return to her job.

It follows months of controversy around the decision to withdraw staff from Larne Port due to an alleged paramilitary threat.

At the start of February the council removed port staff from duty who were involved in protocol-related checks on goods arriving from Great Britain.

It later emerged that council chief executive Ms Donaghy had written to the UK Cabinet Office, which oversees the operation of the protocol, two days before the decision to remove staff.

In July a Stormont committee found there was “limited justification” for the decision to withdraw staff conducting Brexit checks at Larne and Belfast Ports.

The PSNI consistently gave assurances the risk to staff was low and there was no information to substantiate allegations of paramilitary involvement.

Police are investigating correspondence linked to the decision to withdraw the port staff.

The report by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs did not “identify any evidence to indicate that this decision was proportionate”.

It is understood several internal grievances have been lodged against Ms Donaghy and include allegations of bullying. She has also separately raised issues with her employer.

The statement from Ms Donaghy’s solicitor said she is “deeply concerned” about “systemic leakage of confidential Council decision making to the media and other third parties”.

“The latest instance of such leaks relates to a password protected confidential email communication sent to Councillors confirming a decision on her suspension,” KRW Law added.

“Within a very short time of her receiving formal correspondence about her suspension the decision was posted on social media.”

The statement added that throughout this situation “she has retained her dignity in the face of often heavy media intrusion into her family and private life”.

“To date there has been zero accountability on the part of the Council on the manner in which it has conducted itself on a series of issues all of which are the subject of pending disciplinary and other proceedings,” it added.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said in a statement: “We do not comment on staffing matters and no inference should be drawn from this.”

Meanwhile, the DUP group leader on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has claimed that the Food Standards Agency is to fund the employment of 12 Environmental Health Officers implementing checks associated with the Northern Ireland Protocol at Larne Port for three years.

Councillor Gregg McKeen said he was disappointed at the development.

“No amount of money offered by the Food Standards Agency will persuade us to comply with the damaging dictate of the Northern Ireland Protocol,” he said.

“Apart from anything else, this offer provides no guarantee for the ratepayers of Mid and East Antrim who could be left with a staggering bill for the long term, continued employment of these officers.

“As committed to by the leaders of unionism in the Joint Declaration on Ulster Day, I am calling on UUP and TUV councillors to back us in opposing and rejecting the Foods Standards Agency’s lure of additional monies.”

In response, Maria Jennings, FSA NI Director, said: “The Food Standards Agency’s priority is to ensure high standards of food safety and consumer protection. We are working with partners in government to determine the impacts of the Northern Ireland Protocol and supporting District Councils with the implementation of controls currently required within NI food law.

“Funding for these controls is provided by the Department of Finance, facilitated by the Food Standards Agency.

“District Councils with designated ports are legally responsible for carrying out checks on certain foods so that people in Northern Ireland can continue to enjoy a wide range of safe products.”


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