Insults caught on secret tape recordings: ‘The DUP should all be hospitalised’, says council solicitor

The solicitor for a Northern Ireland council insulted elected members and claimed DUP councillors should be “hospitalised” in secret tape recordings, the News Letter can reveal.

Monday, 31st May 2021, 6:16 am
Updated Monday, 31st May 2021, 7:36 am
An aerial view of the Causeway Coast and Glens council headquarters at Cloonavin, Coleraine

Excerpts from the recordings were featured in a ‘Spotlight’ programme, broadcast on Tuesday by BBC NI, that investigated the low-cost disposal of public land to developers on the picturesque Causeway Coast.

The audio recordings had been used as evidence in a High Court battle brought by the TUV leader Jim Allister following the Causeway Coast and Glens Council’s decision to grant planning approval for a proposed hotel near Portstewart.

The tape recordings were made by independent republican councillor Padraig McShane prior to the judicial review during a series of interviews with senior officials at the council, including the chief executive David Jackson and the solicitor David Hunter.

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Mr Jackson and Mr Hunter, who were unaware they were being recorded, can be heard discussing the council’s handling of the hotel proposal, the sale of public land to developers for just £1, and another hotel proposal for a site near Coleraine.

The News Letter can now reveal the disdainful language used by the council solicitor regarding elected members during the recorded conversations. Mr Hunter, in an interview with Mr McShane, said: “There’s probably about half-a-dozen people in that chamber who are what I would call reasonable and half-normal and you could rely on.”

He also criticised individual parties, saying: “The SDLP are all very nice but totally ineffectual, completely and utterly.”

The largest grouping on the council is the DUP, of whom Mr Hunter said: “Then you have the DUP and they’re just, they should all be hospitalised, every one of them.”

The tapes also reveal that Mr Jackson, under questioning from Mr McShane about the hotel proposal in Portstewart and the sale of land for £1, warned that the unelected council officers could become uncooperative with the elected members.

In an apparent reference to the famously obstructive civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby from the BBC TV series ‘Yes, Minister’, Mr Jackson said: “There’s a risk in all of this, that me and my office are just honestly, we’re at the point of saying do you know what, we’re just going to do nothing here. We’ll become Sir Humphreys which is what most of local government ends up like.”

In January 2020, the “dire” financial situation faced by the council was revealed in a document leaked to the News Letter that contained the minutes of a meeting involving more than a dozen senior council officials.

The document also revealed concerns from officials about the “dysfunction”, “mistrust” and even “aggression” in the relationship between unelected officials and elected councillors.

The News Letter has approached the council to invite both Mr Jackson and Mr Hunter to comment but no response has been received.