Sinn Fein councillor’s ‘lack of respect’ for council official

Sinn Fein councillor Sean McGlinchey was censured for showing a 'lack of respect' to a senior council official
Sinn Fein councillor Sean McGlinchey was censured for showing a 'lack of respect' to a senior council official

The majority of complaints about local councillors last year related to concerns around a lack of respect and consideration, the relevant watchdog body has revealed.

According to the Local Government Commissioner for Standards (LGCS) annual report for 2017-18 released today, there were 25 allegations that councillors had breached the ‘respect’ principle, while a further 24 complaints related to claims a councillor had “failed to meet their obligations” as a councillor.

Among the case studies highlighted in the report is the censure of a Sinn Fein councillor who was found to have breached the respect principle during an exchange with a council official – rasing his voice and being “somewhat aggressive in tone”.

The incident took place during a meeting where Causeway Coast councillor Sean McGlinchey was attempting to secure funding of up to £100 for a community clean-up event in Dungiven.

Mr McGlinchey served a prison sentence for his role in a 1973 car bomb that claimed the lives of six Protestants in Coleraine.

The report notes that he later apologised to the official – the council’s director of environmental services – and adds: “Councillor McGlinchey’s private apology after the meeting and his partial apology during the latter part of the meeting indicate some acceptance on his part that his actions had not been entirely appropriate.”

The report also details another case study where the outcome was ‘alternative action’ rather than censure.

In this case, Lisburn and Castlereagh TUV councillor Andrew Girvin breached the code in relation to lobbying.

A complaint was upheld that he attended a meeting with a potential planning applicant, rather than referring this person to the appropriate planning officer. He was required to undergo mandatory training on planning matters.

Commenting on the report, Commissioner Marie Anderson said: “I believe that the code, and the complaints system which helps to enforce it, are working well to uphold standards in local government.

“The arrangements, which are unique to Northern Ireland, not only help to achieve good governance and encourage good practice, they also result in significant savings to the public purse.”

A councillor branding a Facebook user a “moron” was not deemed a breach of the code of conduct.

According to the LGCS, the unnamed councillor was entitled to the free speech protection offered by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – despite a complaint that the comment was “disgusting, totally inappropriate and disrespectful”.

The report also notes that, when engaging in such exchanges, political representatives are required to have “thicker skins” and display “more tolerance than ordinary citizens.”

Commenting on the report, Commissioner Marie Anderson said: “I believe that the code, and the complaints system which helps to enforce it, are working well to uphold standards in local government.

“The arrangements, which are unique to Northern Ireland, not only help to achieve good governance and encourage good practice, they also result in significant savings to the public purse.”