Northern Ireland news

Anne Donaghy responds to move to suspend her from Mid and East Antrim Council chief role

Anne Donaghy, chief executive of Mid & East Antrim council outside its offices in Ballymena. Picture by Peter Morrison.

Anne Donaghy has been suspended as chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

The precautionary suspension is while an independent investigation is conducted into allegations made against Ms Donaghy, who has been off on sick leave. 

A password-protected confidential email was sent to councillors to inform them of the move. 

Solicitor Kevin Winters, acting on behalf of Anne Donaghy, said his client wanted "to place on record her firm denial of all unsubstantiated allegations made against her in recent media reports." 

"She is again deeply concerned to learn about a further example of what amounts to a systemic leakage of confidential Council decision making to the media and other third parties.

"The latest instance of such leaks relates to a password protected confidential email communication sent to councillors confirming a decision on her suspension.

"Within a very short time of her receiving formal correspondence about her suspension the decision was posted on social media .

"Throughout  this politically  driven agenda to unseat her as Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim she has retained her dignity in the face of often heavy media intrusion into her family and private life.

"To date there has been zero accountability on the part of the council on the manner in which it has conducted itself on a series of issues all of which are the subject of pending disciplinary and other proceedings .

"We can confirm our client as a disabled person has initiated proceedings against the council within the Disability Discrimination Act 1995

"She is claiming discrimination on grounds of her sex, religious and political beliefs.

"She is making this formal announcement now in response to the unjustified decision to suspend her at a time when she is on sick leave

"Such decision making has been crass, insensitive and in many ways given the cynical deployment of the media by the council, utterly predictable .

"She will contest the suspension decision issued today and is confident that once due process is complete she will return to her position as Chief Executive." 

In October, Nipsa, which represents almost 300 members in Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, published the results of a survey it carried out. Almost two in three staff on the council said they experienced "bullying and/or harassment at work."

SDLP Ballymena councillor Eugene Reid has welcomed an independent investigation.

Councillor Reid said: “I welcome reports that an independent investigation is to be carried out into allegations of bullying and harassment within Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. When reports of bullying first emerged in the council I expressed significant concerns and stressed the importance of getting to the bottom of the situation. 

“Following the allegations that have blighted the council in recent months this investigation should provide space to establish what has gone on behind the scenes and I hope that it can be progressed quickly so that we can begin to put these matters behind us and move on. 

“Allegations of bullying and harassment are extremely serious, particularly given the large numbers of staff expressing experience of these issues. Nobody should be subjected to this in their workplace and if it exists within our council it must be rooted out and addressed.”  

An investigation of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is linked to attempts to delete correspondence to figures within the DUP, it has been claimed.

According to sources on BBC NI's Spotlight on Tuesday, the police probe is focused on moves by employees of the local authority to delete a trail of correspondence to DUP politicians that was being sought through Freedom of Information requests.

Police raided the council's Ballymena offices in October, seven months after it removed staff from the port of Larne over alleged threats from loyalist paramilitaries.

The staff had been involved in post-Brexit checks at the port, and days before their removal the council's chief executive Anne Donaghy had written to the UK Cabinet Office to warn she was "extremely concerned" for staff safety following graffiti threats that appeared in Larne.

However, within days of their removal, staff were back at their posts after a written PSNI assessment that it had no information of a paramilitary threat.

Stormont's Agriculture Committee launched an investigation into the matter, as the Department of Agriculture had also suspended animal-based food checks by its staff at the port following the threat claims.

Ms Donaghy had claimed her letter to the Cabinet Office had been confidential, but a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Live website found the letter had been circulated to eight DUP politicians.

Speaking to the Spotlight team, public law expert and London-based QC Gavin Millar, said: "It's very serious. For a public authority to be investigated by the police is very, very unusual."

MEA council has said it cannot comment on the issues raised in the programme due to ongoing investigations.

 

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