Councillor Marc Collins (Mid and East Antrim Borough Council), has been suspended from his role as a councillor for 8 months following an Adjudication Hearing held on 24 June.
Acting Commissioner Katrin Shaw decided that Councillor Collins had breached the Councillor’s Code of Conduct by posting a tweet on 18 November 2019, and a re-tweet the following day, which included reference to John Finucane, Sinn Féin’s Westminster election candidate for North Belfast at the time.
The sanction was imposed after a complaint about the tweets was received by the Local Government Ethical Standards Directorate, and an investigation report sent to the Acting Commissioner for her consideration. The Acting Commissioner concluded that the Councillor’s Twitter activity went beyond the acceptable bounds of proper political debate and was unnecessary and personally abusive.
In failing to show respect for Mr Finucane and his family, she found that Councillor Collins had failed to comply with the Respect Principle which underpins the Code.
The Adjudication Hearing to determine a sanction was re-scheduled on two occasions as a result of Councillor Collins’ unavailability. He was reminded of the hearing date of 24 June 2022 and was again asked to confirm whether he intended to make any submissions. No response was received from Councillor Collins and he did not attend the Sanctions Hearing.
The Acting Commissioner considered the mitigating factors in this case, including that Councillor Collins had no previous record of breaching the Code, a letter written by him saying that he did not intend to harm Mr Finucane or his family, and his apology for not engaging with the investigation and adjudication process.
However, the Acting Commissioner considered that it was a serious aggravating factor that Councillor Collins’s tweets contributed towards a toxic atmosphere in North Belfast at the time of the General Election. They also resulted in Mr Finucane believing that his own and his family’s safety were in jeopardy.
She further noted that the councillor’s failure to engage in the investigation and adjudication process had resulted in unnecessary costs to the public purse.
Having regard to previous decisions and the seriousness of the breaches, the Acting Commissioner considered that a period of suspension of 8 months was a necessary and proportionate response to the breaches found.
The Respondent may appeal to the High Court against this decision in accordance with the provisions of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014.
The full written decision is available at: