At a reconvened Adjudication Hearing held on behalf of the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards in Coleraine today (Thursday 24th November 2016) the Acting Commissioner Mr Ian A Gordon OBE, having previously concluded that Causeway, Coast and Glens Borough Councillor Padraig McShane had breached the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, imposed a sanction on him of full suspension from Council activities for a period of three months. The suspension will commence from Monday 28th November 2016. During the suspension, Councillor McShane will be excluded from attending Council meetings or the meetings of any Council Committees that he may be a member of. He may also be denied payment of allowances under the terms of his Council’s Scheme for the Payment of Allowances to Councillors and Committee Members.
At the initial Adjudication Hearing held on Tuesday 15th November, the Acting Commissioner found that Councillor McShane had breached paragraphs 4.6, 4.16 (a), 4.18 (b) and (e) of the Councillor Code of Conduct.
In announcing his decision to impose the sanction of a three month full suspension, the Acting Commissioner said –
“The Respondent had sought permission to show personal visitors the Council Chamber and Mayor’s Parlour; he had not sought permission to display flags in the Chamber. He was aware of the current sensitivity and issues around flags both in his council and elsewhere in Northern Ireland. This was a misuse of the Council Chamber and his subsequent publication of the photograph was an attempt to use his position as a councillor to secure a political advantage for himself or others.
The surreptitious manner in which the flags were displayed demonstrates his disregard for his council’s developing policy on flags and was an improper use of the Chamber. His deliberate actions and the subsequent publicity, generated by himself, were likely to cause controversy and brought the role of a councillor and his council into disrepute.
The Respondent had embarked on a deliberate course of action which was politically motivated and contrary to what his council would expect from an elected member. He accepts that he has failed to comply with Paragraph 4.6 of the Code. Acknowledging the Respondent’s right not to appear at the Hearing and have an opportunity to comment on his actions, there is no evidence that he has shown insight or reflection on any of his failures to comply. To the contrary, it appears from quotes in the media, attributed to the Respondent, that he is unconcerned about the outcome of his actions.
Such conduct and lack of insight or understanding of the purpose of the Code, gives rise to a question on the likelihood of further failures to comply with the Code, on the part of the Respondent.
I am satisfied that in construing the Code in the present case, any restriction upon the Respondent’s freedom of expression in the context of the facts which I have established, is a necessary and proportionate restriction.
A prohibition on the Respondent’s wish to display flags in the Council Chamber is, at most, a very small but proportionate restriction on his freedom of expression, and does not inhibit his right “to hold opinion”. The Respondent remains free to exchange and discuss his political ideas and the restriction on the use of the Council Chamber is a minimal interference with any Article 10 right and is justifiable in the context of the sensitive issue of flags and emblems in Northern Ireland, and in the context where the Council itself operates under an interim policy on flags.
In relation to the determination of Paragraph 4.6 of the Code where the Respondent had failed to cooperate with investigation. This showed disregard for the standards regime and left the impression that he was taking the proceedings lightly” said the Acting Commissioner.
For further information please contact – Linda Beers Inform Communications Tel: 07884437376
NOTES TO EDITORS
Right of Appeal
The respondent 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 undertook the investigation in to the complaint made against Councillor McShane. Mr Gordon is the Convener of the Standards Commission for Scotland, a position he has held since February 2010.
Breaches of the Councillor Code of Conduct
Councillor McShane was found to have breached paragraphs 4.6, 4.16 (a), 4.18 (b) and (e) of the Councillor Code of Conduct.
Para 4.6. states:
You must comply with any request of the Commissioner in connection with an investigation conducted in accordance with the Commissioner’s statutory powers.
Para 4.16 (a) states:
You must not:
- use, or attempt to use, your position improperly to confer on, or secure, an advantage for yourself of any other person.
Para 4.18 (b) and 4.18 (e) states:
You must note use, or authorise others to use, the resources of your council
- in breach of your council’s requirements
(e) improperly for political purposes
The complaint alleged that Councillor McShane had displayed an Irish tricolour flag and a Palestinian flag in the Chamber at Council headquarters in Coleraine on 19 June 2015. A photograph of the display, which included (and named) the Councillor McShane, Mohammed Al-Halabi of the Municipality of Gaza and two republican councillors, from Derry City and Strabane District Council, was later published in three local newspapers; the Londonderry Sentinel, the Newsletter and the Ballymoney and Moyle Times on 23 June 2015. The Complainant Councillor Clarke stated that he believed that the Respondent Councillor McShane had used his position to improperly gain political advantage for himself and others; behaved in a way that negatively impacts Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council’s reputation; breached the trust and goodwill in which the Mayor granted permission for the Respondent to show the Chamber to his visitor and breached elements of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.