Padraig McShane says he will fight council suspension in courts
AN independent councillor suspended for three months after being pictured with a tricolour and Palestinian flag in a council chamber says he will challenge the decision in the courts.
The Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards found that Ballycastle-based Padraig McShane had breached the councillor code of conduct.
Mr McShane, a member of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, was pictured sitting behind the flags at the council chamber in Coleraine in June 2015 along with Derry independent councillors Gary Donnelly and Darren O'Reilly and Gaza official Mohamed Al-Halabi.
Causeway DUP councillor Trevor Clarke made a complaint after the photograph emerged.
A straw-filled effigy of Mr McShane, based on the image, was later placed on a loyalist bonfire in Bushmills with a target on its head.
The councillor, who had refused to take part in the commission’s investigation, will be banned from all meetings for three months from November 28.
The commission has also warned that he may be denied his council allowance, which can amount to between £1,000 and £1,300 a month.
Mr McShane was found to have breached several paragraphs in the councillor’s code of conduct covering the use of position to confer and secure personal advantage and the use of council resources “for political purposes”.
He also breached rules requiring councillors to comply with the commission in relation to investigations.
Acting commissioner Ian Gordon said Mr McShane had not sought permission to display flags in the council chamber.
“He was aware of the current sensitivity and issues around flags both in his council and elsewhere in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“This was a misuse of the council chamber and his subsequent publication of the photograph was an attempt to use his position as a councillor to secure a political advantage for himself or others.”
Mr McShane said he intends to fight the ruling through the courts.
“I will be going about my duties as normal despite not being allowed to attend council meetings.”
His solicitor Michael Brentnall said: “Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the censuring of such views and is a disproportionate interference with his right to freedom of expression."
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the commission said a reference in its press statement to “Londonderry and Strabane Council” was a "typographical error".
"Of course the Acting Commissioner and the Commissioner’s Office understand that the council should have been referred to as Derry and Strabane District Council.”