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Irish language group in row with council chief over 'damaging' comments

Anne Donaghy, chief executive of Mid and East Antrim council
Brendan Hughes

AN IRISH language organisation has said it intends to make a formal complaint against a council chief executive in a dispute over comments she made at a council meeting.

Conradh na Gaeilge (CnG) strongly rejected Anne Donaghy's claims that she had contacted the group and arranged a meeting but it had failed to turn up.

The Irish language group said it has "no record of any such meeting being requested" and accused Ms Donaghy of risking them "reputational damage".

Ms Donaghy made the claim on Monday at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim council, during which councillors discussed whether to hold an event to mark Irish Language Week.

CnG had written to the council asking it to consider providing funding for groups or organising its own event.

During the discussion, Ms Donaghy defended the council's efforts to look at holding events for Seachtain na Gaeilge 2018.

She said: "Just to say I have put some work into this. I have done the best I can and I did contact Conradh na Gaeilge and had a meeting and sat at the meeting with two officers and they didn't turn up.

"Now we contacted them and asked them, and I asked them to come back to me, and they haven't come back to me.

"I did arrange the meeting and that's what happened."

Rather than holding an event for Irish Language Week, most councillors instead backed TUV councillor Timothy Gaston's proposal to note CnG's correspondence and refer the group to the council's grants scheme.

Making his proposal, Mr Gaston referred to Ms Donaghy's comments about CnG and said it was "embarrassing they couldn't even turn up".

Mid and East Antrim council later said its mayor is still "committed to hosting an event to mark Irish Language Week".

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, advocacy manager for CnG, yesterday disputed Ms Donaghy's comments and said the group would be making a formal complaint.

"We would like to state on record that we have no record of any such meeting being requested and were unaware of any meeting having been arranged," he said.

He said the group "risks reputational damage", adding: "Given that this was referenced by some councillors during the debate on whether or not to support Seachtain na Gaeilge, we believe it had an impact on the debate and impacted negatively on the outcome from our perspective."

Asked about Ms Donaghy's comments, last night the council said a meeting was arranged between several councillors, staff and a CnG representative for August 15 last year but that "a number of those invited did not attend".

To support this, the council released a redacted email in July last year from Ms Donaghy to a councillor in which she says she would be "happy to meet".

However, no messages showing any correspondence directly with CnG were disclosed.

Independent councillor Paul Maguire expressed concern over the dispute.

"This is a very serious situation, and an embarrassment for Mid and East Antrim council. Good Relations within both the corporate body and constituency, is consequently at a very low ebb," he said.

It is the latest controversy to hit the Mid and East Antrim council chief executive.

Last year SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan said Ms Donaghy contacted him to say she was making a complaint after a search of his emails – which Mr O'Loan said were searched without his consent or knowledge.

And in October Ms Donaghy faced criticism after claiming that UVF flags put on display during a loyalist band contest were "historic and not illegal".

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