Northern Ireland news

Complaints against Northern Ireland councillors up almost a third

Marie Anderson, the north's local government commissioner for standards
Brendan Hughes

COMPLAINTS against councillors in Northern Ireland have increased by almost a third in the past year.

A total of 44 complaints were made to the standards commissioner during 2017-18, compared to 34 in 2016-17.

Most related to councillors allegedly failing to show respect and consideration for others, with 25 cases raised.

The second most common type of complaint were claims that councillors had failed to meet their obligations, with 24 instances alleged.

Several complaints alleged more than one breach, according to the latest annual report for the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards.

It includes examples of complaints examined in the last year, such as claims that councillors made offensive comments in meetings or online.

Among the cases was a TUV councillor who accepted failing to comply with the code of conduct's rules on lobbying.

Andrew Girvin, who sits on Lisburn and Castlereagh council's planning committee, met alone with a representative of a potential planning applicant rather than referring the request to a planning official as required under the code.

He also did not report the meeting to a planning officer and made no record of what was discussed.

Mr Girvin accepted he had breached the code, but said this was because of a misinterpretation of lobbying rules.

As a resolution, he agreed to attend any training determined by the commissioner and pledged to comply with the code in future.

Some councillors in Belfast have recently raised concerns over the scope of declaring interests under the code.

It comes after UUP councillor Jim Rodgers was sanctioned by the standards commissioner for not declaring an interest in two groups that received council funding.

But the commissioner Marie Anderson said she believes the system is "working well".

"I believe that the code, and the complaints system which helps to enforce it, are working well to uphold standards in local government," she said.

"The arrangements, which are unique to Northern Ireland, not only help to achieve good governance and encourage good practice, they also result in significant savings to the public purse."

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