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Government commissioner suspends Northern Ireland councillor over drink-driving offence

By Jonathan Bell

The Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards has suspended a Northern Ireland councillor from his position after he was convicted of drink driving.

The commissioner found Newry, Mourne and Down representative Patrick Brown had brought both his position as councillor and the council into disrepute following his conviction in July 2017.

The councillor referred himself to the commissioner for an investigation into his conduct during the early hours of 5 March 2017 when he was stopped and breathalysed by police while riding a motorcycle with a pillion passenger.  He was convicted of drink-driving, and sentenced to a 12-month driving ban and a £250 fine.

Mr Brown said his "incredibly stupid decision" had a huge impact on his life, career and standing within the community.

The commissioner found Mr Brown was in breach of the code of conduct for councillors in regard to conducting "yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your position as a councillor, or your council, into disrepute" and issued a suspension.

In reaching her decision, commissioner for standards Marie Anderson considered evidence submitted by the deputy commissioner, as well as submissions by Councillor Brown, who had accepted his conduct failed to comply with the Local Government Code of Conduct.

In his submissions the councillor set out a number of mitigating factors for the commissioner to consider, including that he had apologised for his actions and had subsequently contacted a number of drink driving charities to express an interest in supporting them in an attempt to correct his wrongdoing.

The Commissioner ruled that as Councillor Brown’s conduct had resulted in a criminal conviction it had brought both his position and his council into disrepute. She was satisfied that his actions were likely to have diminished the trust and confidence of the public, and that any reasonable person, knowing all of the facts, would have come to the same conclusion.

Explaining the reasons for her sanction, the commissioner stated that the councillor’s actions were sufficiently serious for her to rule out the less punitive options of no action or censure.

However, as she had not been presented with any evidence that the incident had brought the council into serious disrepute, a disqualification was also considered inappropriate.

In order to preserve public confidence in the ethical standards framework and the wider public interest, and taking into account the mitigating factors, she determined that Councillor Brown’s conduct merited a six month suspension commencing 14 May 2018.

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