Northern Ireland news

Minister monitoring situation at Mid and East Antrim council following police search

The Braid, Ballymena
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Stormont’s communities minister has said she would have “no hesitation” in intervening in a council which is under police investigation, if she believed it was the right thing to do.

Deirdre Hargey also said that she understands public concern over recent events at Mid and East Antrim council and that her officials have been engaging with the public body.

The council’s offices in Ballymena were searched by police as part of an investigation into suspected misconduct in public office last month.

Police also said the search related to suspected offences under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The council said it was “fully assisting” the PSNI with its enquiries.

A trade union also recently wrote to Ms Hargey urging her department to supervise the council under local government powers.

During ministerial question time at the Assembly today, Alliance Party MLA John Blair asked Ms Hargey what action her department was taking to ensure the morale of staff, members and ratepayers of the council was protected.

She said: “I can understand the concerns that have been raised and members from a variety of parties have raised their concerns with me.

“There has been intervention over recent weeks in terms of the police.

“I have looked at this in terms of the limit and the ability of where I can intervene, I continue to keep those options open where I would be able to do that.

“I have to make sure that where I intervene, I am legally allowed to do so.

“I am keeping all of these recent matters under careful consideration, we continue to engage and if I do need to make an intervention, and I believe it is the right thing to do, then I will have no hesitation in doing that.”

Mr Blair said: “These are difficult issues but could I ask if processes which are in place are to be reviewed as a result of recent events?”

The minister responded: “It is about establishing the facts; it is whether I can assess legally whether I have the ground to go in and ask for more detail.

“Obviously, I am aware of the public interest and if there was a point that the public interest was affected to the point that those who live within the borough had real concerns, I would keep that under review.

“My officials continue to engage with the council.”

 

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