February 21, 2022

Former councillor censured following breaches of Code of Conduct

Former Councillor Declan Boyle (Belfast City Council) has been censured by the Local Government Commissioner for Standards after being found to have breached a number of parts of the Code of Conduct relating to declaration of interests.

At an Adjudication Hearing on 18 February 2022, Acting Commissioner Mr Ian Gordon found that former Councillor Boyle had failed to declare personal interests during Council meetings when improvements in areas of Belfast where he had properties were discussed. He also failed to withdraw from those meetings.

The Adjudication followed an investigation by the Local Government Ethical Standards Directorate which received complaints that former Councillor Boyle had failed to comply with the Code.

The former councillor acknowledged that he had breached the sections of the Code relating to conflict of interest, however he said that the incidents had occurred early in his role, and that he had taken advice which said that his actions would not constitute a failure to follow the Code’s provisions.

The Acting Commissioner acknowledged that by facing up to these issues, his admissions that he had breached the Code, and his acceptance that his conduct had the potential to impact on public trust and confidence, former Councillor Boyle had helped bring a complex case to a conclusion.

However, they were serious breaches which required an equally serious sanction. The Acting Commissioner said that if Mr Boyle had still been a serving councillor, he would have suspended him from his role.

Based on what sanctions were available to him, the Acting Commissioner decided that the breaches of the Code merited a censure, rather than disqualification for a period from being a councillor. An important factor was the efforts that had been made to ensure the Hearing was able to be conducted fairly and efficiently, recognising the interests of both the former councillor and the public.

The Acting Commissioner said that is the public duty of all councillors to understand the Code and its Guidance. On this occasion, regardless of the mitigating circumstances put forward, former Councillor Boyle had failed in that duty.

The Acting Commissioner stressed that there is also a duty on Councils and their Officers to ensure that Councillors are properly trained for their role, including the use of regular refresher training sessions.

Notes:

  • The Commissioner’s Sanctions Guidelines can be found here.
  • 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 Acting Commissioner’s full written decision will appear on the Commissioner’s website at org.uk/nilgcs/