Northern Ireland news

Padraig McShane challenging suspension over picture in council building with tricolour and Palestinian flag

 The picture was taken at Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council's Coleraine headquarters

An independent councillor suspended for three months in a row over flags has vowed to take his legal challenge to being sanctioned all the way to Europe.

Padraig McShane was found to have breached a code of conduct after being pictured with the tricolour and a Palestinian flag at Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council's Coleraine headquarters.

His lawyers claim the decision should be overturned because of his right to freedom of political opinion. Mr McShane was pictured sitting behind a bench draped in the flags at the council chamber in June 2015.

Alongside him in the photograph were Derry-based independent councillors Gary Donnelly and Darren O'Reilly, and visiting Gaza official Mohamed Al-Halabi.

A Democratic Unionist representative lodged a complaint after the picture emerged. In November 2016 the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards ruled that Mr McShane had breached the councillor's code of conduct.

The adjudication covered a prohibition on the use of position to confer and secure personal advantage, and the use of council resources "for political purposes".

Mr McShane, a former Sinn Féin member and now independent republican representative, did not attend the hearing where the finding was made. 

With the suspension period which saw him banned from all council meetings for three months since served, his legal team are continuing attempts to have the adjudication reversed.

They contend that the councillor is entitled to express political opinion and free speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Although a High Court judge refused to grant leave for a challenge to the decision, proceedings have now reached the Court of Appeal.

Senior judges reserved their verdict today on a preliminary point about whether they have authority to hear the case.

Outside court Mr McShane's solicitor, Michael Brentnall, said: "If the court decides that it has no jurisdiction my client will be making an application to the European Court of Human Rights.

"The basis of that will be his right to freedom of speech as an elected representative." 

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