Belfast’s former lord mayor has apologised for distributing a leaflet that a group of her fellow councillors said alleged corruption in City Hall’s planning committee.
Councillor Nuala McAllister, who stood down as Belfast’s first citizen on Monday night, made the public apology on Friday following at the end of an Ombudsman’s investigation into alleged misconduct.
In March 2016, a total of 31 unionist and nationalist councillors reported Nuala McAllister to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman regarding a leaflet distributed on her behalf across North Belfast.
Under the headline “What have they got to hide?”, the then-councillor criticised other parties which had opposed the audio recording of Planning Committee meetings at Belfast City Council.
Accompanying the article was a picture of a jar stuffed with cash.
BCC passed an Alliance motion in December 2016, pledging that all future meetings would be audio recorded.
Sinn Fein supported the resolution, while the DUP, SDLP and UUP opposed it, on the grounds that they had received legal advice warning there would be serious penalties for councillors if they made mistaken comments during planning meetings.
When the leaflet was distributed in March 2016, senior DUP, SDLP and UUP councillors alleged that Councillor McAllister had broken the Councillors Code of Conduct for publishing what they alleged was “defamatory material”.
“This disgraceful leaflet carries the innuendo of financial corruption and bribery,” DUP councillor Brian Kingston said at the time.
As a result of the investigation, one of the longest in the office’s history, the Alliance representative has authored an apology that is now on the Ombudsman’s website.
She will also have to apologise in writing to each of the 31 complainants.
Councillor McAllister said she had not intended to allege members of the planning committee were corrupt, rather she wanted to highlight the need for transparency at City Hall.
“My intention in publishing the article was, as will always be my intention, to promote greater openness and transparency in the carrying out of council business,” she said.
“It did not occur to me that the text and photograph taken together could be interpreted by individuals as alleging or implying corruption by councillors in the discharge of their council duties.
“I, however, now accept that the presentation of the article alongside the photographic image was open to alternative interpretation and that this did cause concern amongst members of the planning committee.
“I, therefore, wish to set the record straight and I apologise specifically to the members of the planning committee and those councillors who complained about the article for any concern caused.
“I hope that, as a result of my apology, we as councillors can draw a line under this issue and continue to work together for the betterment of all our constituents.”
When news broke that the investigation was in its “final stages” two weeks ago, one of the lead complainants in the case, DUP councillor John Hussey, said Nuala McAllister should have apologised at the time to avoid such a lengthy investigation.
“Had Nuala apologised at the time, I’m sure the 31 cross-party councillors who submitted this complaint against her would not have felt the need to do so,” he added.
“The fact that she has stood by her accusations for over two years, with no evidence whatsoever, is the most disappointing thing of all.”