COUNCILLOR SUSPENDED FOR THREE MONTHS
At a reconvened Adjudication Hearing held on behalf of the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards in Coleraine today (Thursday 24th November 2016) the Acting Commissioner Mr Ian A Gordon OBE, having previously concluded that Causeway, Coast and Glens Borough Councillor Padraig McShane had breached the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, imposed a sanction on him of full suspension from Council activities for a period of three months. The suspension will commence from Monday 28th November 2016. During the suspension, Councillor McShane will be excluded from attending Council meetings or the meetings of any Council Committees that he may be a member of. He may also be denied payment of allowances under the terms of his Council’s Scheme for the Payment of Allowances to Councillors and Committee Members.
At the initial Adjudication Hearing held on Tuesday 15th November, the Acting Commissioner found that Councillor McShane had breached paragraphs 4.6, 4.16 (a), 4.18 (b) and (e) of the Councillor Code of Conduct.
In announcing his decision to impose the sanction of a three month full suspension, the Acting Commissioner said –
“The Respondent had sought permission to show personal visitors the Council Chamber and Mayor’s Parlour; he had not sought permission to display flags in the Chamber. He was aware of the current sensitivity and issues around flags both in his council and elsewhere in Northern Ireland. This was a misuse of the Council Chamber and his subsequent publication of the photograph was an attempt to use his position as a councillor to secure a political advantage for himself or others.
The surreptitious manner in which the flags were displayed demonstrates his disregard for his council’s developing policy on flags and was an improper use of the Chamber. His deliberate actions and the subsequent publicity, generated by himself, were likely to cause controversy and brought the role of a councillor and his council into disrepute.
The Respondent had embarked on a deliberate course of action which was politically motivated and contrary to what his council would expect from an elected member. He accepts that he has failed to comply with Paragraph 4.6 of the Code. Acknowledging the Respondent’s right not to appear at the Hearing and have an opportunity to comment on his actions, there is no evidence that he has shown insight or reflection on any of his failures to comply. To the contrary, it appears from quotes in the media, attributed to the Respondent, that he is unconcerned about the outcome of his actions.
Such conduct and lack of insight or understanding of the purpose of the Code, gives rise to a question on the likelihood of further failures to comply with the Code, on the part of the Respondent.
I am satisfied that in construing the Code in the present case, any restriction upon the Respondent’s freedom of expression in the context of the facts which I have established, is a necessary and proportionate restriction.
A prohibition on the Respondent’s wish to display flags in the Council Chamber is, at most, a very small but proportionate restriction on his freedom of expression, and does not inhibit his right “to hold opinion”. The Respondent remains free to exchange and discuss his political ideas and the restriction on the use of the Council Chamber is a minimal interference with any Article 10 right and is justifiable in the context of the sensitive issue of flags and emblems in Northern Ireland, and in the context where the Council itself operates under an interim policy on flags.
In relation to the determination of Paragraph 4.6 of the Code where the Respondent had failed to cooperate with investigation. This showed disregard for the standards regime and left the impression that he was taking the proceedings lightly” said the Acting Commissioner.
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