Northern Ireland news

Second watchdog investigation opened against DUP councillor Linda Clarke

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke with his wife, party councillor Linda Clarke, and inset, how The Irish News revealed her involvement in awarding council funds to their son's business
Brendan Hughes

A STANDARDS watchdog has formally opened a second investigation against embattled DUP councillor Linda Clarke.

Investigations have also been launched into conflict of interest complaints against two of her MLA husband Trevor Clarke's constituency office staff.

The DUP couple have come under weeks of pressure since their sideline planning consultancy business was exposed by an Irish News investigation.

Mr Clarke, an MLA for South Antrim, has rejected concerns that Versatile Consultancy breaches assembly rules which prohibit paid advocacy.

The couple insist they "made all the relevant declarations and adhered to all rules".

An investigation by the Local Government Commissioner for Standards is already under way against Mrs Clarke over alleged conflicts of interest in the planning process.

A further complaint was made after it was revealed the Antrim and Newtownabbey councillor was involved in awarding more than £4,500 in council contracts to her son's printing firm.

After being examined, this complaint has also now been referred by the watchdog for formal investigation.

DUP councillors Jeannie Archibald and John Smyth

Complaints had also been made about Antrim and Newtownabbey mayor John Smyth and fellow DUP councillor Jeannie Archibald, who along with Mrs Clarke all work in Mr Clarke's constituency office.

These have also now been referred for investigation.

Mr Smyth backed some applications for which Versatile was the planning agent when they came before the council's planning committee.

Ms Archibald joined the planning committee after being newly elected to the council in May.

No Versatile-related applications came before the committee since she became a member, but in June she voted on an NI Water application upon which Mr Clarke made representations on behalf of residents.

Ms Archibald has said she judges all planning cases on their merit, abides by the code of conduct and makes "all necessary declarations".

Mr Smyth has said that "at all times" he "acted in an open and transparent way".

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