Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson issue staunch defence of council boss Anne Donaghy
DUP MPs Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley have issued a statement following a police raid at the headquarters at Mid and East Antrim Council offices in which they allege a "campaign of harassment" against council chief executive Anne Donaghy.
Detectives from the PSNI's Criminal Investigation Branch carried out searches in Ballymena yesterday as part of an investigation into "suspected offences of Misconduct in Public Office and under the Freedom of Information Act 2000".
The activity at the Bridge Street premises left councillors "shocked" and prompted calls for answers.
In a statement issued late last night, Sammy WIlson and Ian Paisley described an "ongoing campaign of harassment" against Ms Donaghy.
It said: "The ongoing harassment of the Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Council by a number of councillors and some staff aided and abetted by the media deserves investigation by the Ombudsman to determine whether those involved have broken the councillors code of conduct.
"It is ironic that in a week where there has been massive concerns about the abuse of people in public positions that a woman should be subjected to irresponsible treatment by the media who know that because of her position she cannot even defend herself.
"What is disturbing is that the police have now involved themselves in this dispute and although they have not questioned or even contacted Anne Donaghy or seized any IT equipment from her, she is being named as a person under investigation.
"She does not know what allegations have been made. She does not know who made the allegations which resulted in police action. She has no platform from which to defend herself whilst public representatives and journalists have free rein to blacken her name.
"It is significant however that the latest moves against her come just before the council is due to meet to decide on the process which would allow her to defend herself and we have no doubt that the timing is designed to influence that decision.
"We have spoken to Anne Donaghy who is adamant that she has done no wrong and who is convinced that whatever allegations have been made to the police are just another attempt to undermine her so that those who wish to hound her out of the council can have their way.
"We have worked closely with Anne since she became chief executive of the council. Her record is impeccable. Her achievements are remarkable and her dedication to the council unquestionable.
"We will be seeking a meeting with the PSNI to ascertain why they have acted in this way and will be asking our members on the policing board to raise our concerns with the Chief Constable."
SDLP councillor Eugene Reid called it a "sorry episode".
On Twitter, Mr Reid said it was the "latest in a long line of incidents that have dragged the name of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council through the mud and I have contacted senior council officials to request an immediate update following this raid".
TUV councillor Timothy Gaston described events as a "shambles" and said he had written to the borough's DUP mayor William McCaughey to demand answers about the nature of the police operation.
Last week a trade union asked for a Stormont department to oversee the running of the council amid claims its members had no confidence in it.
Questions had also been asked about the unionist-dominated council's role in the removal of staff in carrying out post-Brexit checks at Larne Port in February following claims of loyalist intimidation.
Police later said there was no evidence of credible threats.
A subsequent report by the Stormont Agriculture Committee found the staff removal had contributed to rising tensions around the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Last month the council voted to refer itself to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman.
Separately a recent report by workers' union Nipsa found that 61 percent of respondents said they had experienced bullying while working at the council.
Last week Nipsa asked Stormont's Department for Communities to step in and run the council in the wake of the controversies.
Following the police visit to the Ballymena offices, a council spokesperson said last night: "Council can confirm it is fully assisting the PSNI with its enquiries. As this is an ongoing investigation, Council is unable to comment further at this time."
The council is currently without the leadership of Ms Donaghy, who took sick leave in September.
Last Friday the council said a special meeting would take place tonight "at which the interim leadership of council will be among the issues discussed, and the way forward agreed".