Jolene Bunting accused of causing ‘reputational damage to Belfast City Council’

Belfast City Councillor Jolene Bunting, whose conduct has caused "a level of reputational damage to Belfast City Council", a hearing by Northern Ireland's local government watchdog has been told.
Belfast City Councillor Jolene Bunting, whose conduct has caused "a level of reputational damage to Belfast City Council", a hearing by Northern Ireland's local government watchdog has been told.

The conduct of independent councillor Jolene Bunting has caused “a level of reputational damage to Belfast City Council”, a hearing by Northern Ireland’s local government watchdog has been told.

The claim was made in a statement given by the council’s chief executive, Suzanne Wylie.

The Local Government Commissioner for Standards is looking into 14 complaints about Ms Bunting’s behaviour.

On Tuesday, acting commissioner Ian Gordon chaired an interim hearing at the Resolution Centre in Belfast.

It follows an interim report by deputy commissioner Paul McFadden, which recommends that it is in the public interest for Ms Bunting to be suspended for six months.

Counsel for the deputy commissioner outlined to the hearing areas of the councillor’s code of conduct to which the complaints against Ms Bunting relate.

These include an onus to represent the whole community, to promote good relations and act as a positive example.

He outlined details of the complaints.

These included Ms Bunting’s endorsement of comments made by Britain First frontwoman Jayda Fransen during the Northern Ireland Against Terrorism rally at Belfast City Hall on August 6 2017.

Ms Fransen made a number of remarks about the Muslim faith, for which she is facing criminal charges.

The complaints against Ms Bunting also include a video during which she and Ms Fransen speak to the camera while standing in front of the Belfast Islamic Centre, comments she made about Islam at council meetings, and a frog meme which was perceived by some to be sectarian.

In Ms Wylie’s statement to the commissioner, she raised two matters.

The first was that a number of councillors had approached her with concerns over the frog meme which Ms Bunting had tweeted.

The second was an incident during which Ms Fransen filmed a video for her supporters while sitting in the Lord Mayor’s chair in Belfast City Hall dressed in councillor’s robes.

The hearing was told that no permission had been sought for the visit.

In her statement, Ms Wylie said it was unacceptable for the council chamber to be used in this way.

She added that Ms Bunting’s conduct has “caused a level of reputational damage to Belfast City Council”.

Ms Wylie also expressed concern that Ms Bunting could go on to cause “serious reputational damage” to the council.

It is unusual for an interim hearing to take place as part of the process, and occurred in this case because of the number of complaints against Ms Bunting.

A number of members of Britain First, including leader Paul Golding, watched proceedings from the public gallery.

Ms Bunting had previously been associated with the far-right group, but earlier this year there was a falling-out.

The investigations into the complaints is continuing, with the full hearing set to take place at a later date.

Potential penalties include disqualification as a councillor.

The interim hearing is set to resume on Tuesday afternoon.