At a Hearing of the Commissioner for NI Local Government Ethical Standards, held in Coleraine on 5 June 2017, the Acting Commissioner, Ian Gordon, concluded that Councillor Sean McGlinchey, a member of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, had breached the Councillors’ Code of Conduct and imposed a sanction of censure.
The sanction was imposed following an investigation into a complaint that at the monthly meeting of the Council on 22 September 2015, Councillor McGlinchey raised an issue with the Director of Environmental Services concerning the lack of financial support for a community event in Dungiven. Councillor McGlinchey was critical of the Director as he felt he had been given no help nor assistance from Council Officials. The matter raised was not directly linked to the committee report being considered under the Council agenda item. The remarks amounted to a strongly worded and unwarranted criticism of the Council Official’s professionalism.
Councillor McGlinchey was in breach of the provisions relating to Paragraphs 4.1 (c), 4.13(a) and 4.14 in the Councillors’ Code.
In reaching the decision, the Acting Commissioner noted that Councillor McGlinchey had accepted his failure to comply with the Code and had since apologised to the Council Official and undertaken further training on the Code of Conduct. The issue arose from a legitimate concern on the part of Councillor McGlinchey seeking support for a local community clean-up project. The effect, however, of raising this matter without proper notice was that a Council Official was subjected to public criticism without being afforded an opportunity to respond or to defend his reputation. Councillor McGlinchey’s actions were inappropriate and caused offence and embarrassment to the Council Officer.
The Acting Commissioner stated that as the principal purpose of sanctions is the preservation of public confidence in local government representatives, any sanction imposed must be justified in the wider public interest and designed to discourage or prevent the respondent, or others, from any future failures to comply with the Code.
Against the background of mitigating factors, all sanctions were considered. This, however, was not an inadvertent failure to comply with the Code and despite his apology, Councillor McGlinchey’s conduct merited the sanction of censure.
5 June 2017
Note for editors:
The Councillor has failed to comply with:
- Paragraph 4.1 (c) “Councillors hold public office under the law and must act: in accordance with the Standing Orders of your council.”
- Paragraph 4.13(a) of the Code: “You must show respect and consideration for others”; and the Respect Principle: ““It is acknowledged that the exchange of ideas and opinions on policies may be robust but this should be kept in context and not extend to individuals being subjected to unreasonable and excessive personal attack. You should keep in mind that rude and offensive behaviour may lower the public’s regard for and confidence in councillors and councils. You should therefore show respect and consideration for others at all times.”
- Paragraph 4.14 “You must work responsibly and with respect, with others and with employees of councils. The “Protocol for Relations between Councillors and Employees in Northern Ireland District Councils” which is included as Appendix 3 in the Code of Conduct for Local Government Employees, is available on the Local Government Staff Commission website”.
Right of Appeal
Councillor McGlinchey may seek the permission of the High Court to appeal against a decision made by the Acting Commissioner, in accordance with Section 59 (14) of the 2014 Act
The Acting Commissioner
The Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards Mrs Marie Anderson appointed Mr Ian A Gordon OBE QPM LL.B (Hons) as Acting Commissioner to conduct the Adjudication Hearing. Mrs Anderson excluded herself from the Hearing process as prior to her appointment she was the Deputy Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and oversaw the investigation into the complaint made against Councillor McGlinchey.