Northern Ireland news

Council seeks clarity from Stormont over sex-assault councillor Brian Duffin

Brian Duffin at Antrim Courthouse earlier this week
Brendan Hughes

A COUNCIL has asked a Stormont department for clarification on local government legislation for disqualifying councillors after Brian Duffin’s sexual assault conviction.

The Independent Antrim and Newtownabbey councillor was on Tuesday given a four-month jail sentence, but freed on bail pending an application to appeal.

It followed the 73-year-old’s conviction in June for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl at her home in 2016.

Confusion remains over whether Duffin – who has resisted calls to resign – faces automatic disqualification from being a councillor because of his jail term.

Duffin “stuck his tongue” into the mouth of the girl and placed one hand on her breast and the other on her inner thigh, a court heard.

His victim told police “I just froze, I panicked” and that afterwards neither spoke – but Duffin took £40 from his wallet, set it on the table and walked out.

Local government legislation says a councillor is automatically disqualified if their “actual imprisonment” term is three months or more – but 50 per cent remission means Duffin will serve two months of his sentence on licence.

It is also unclear which public body is required to decide whether an automatic disqualification takes effect.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council does not believe it is responsible for making the decision and has contacted the Department for Communities (DfC) for clarification.

However, responding to queries from The Irish News, the DfC last night said it was the council’s responsibility to determine whether the legislation means Duffin will be automatically disqualified as a councillor upon imprisonment.

“The action to be taken following the disqualification of a councillor is a matter for the council,” it said.

If an automatic disqualification does not apply, Duffin could still face serious sanctions from the Local Government Commissioner for Standards.

However, the watchdog says it has “no power to act” without a complaint.

A commissioner’s office spokesman has said they have received “enquiries”, but no formal complaint so far.

Duffin, of Cargin Road in Toomebridge, left the SDLP earlier this year when the sexual assault case emerged.

He denied the charge but was found guilty at Antrim Magistrates Court.

The judge acknowledged his previous good character and references, but said the “custody threshold has been crossed”.

If he resigned, the SDLP would decide who takes his seat because he was elected as an SDLP representative.

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