Northern Ireland news

Suspended Mid and East Antrim Borough Council chief executive defends travelling to Windsor Castle to receive OBE

Anne Donaghy received her honour from the Duke of Cambridge during an investiture ceremony on December 7. Picture by Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

THE suspended chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has defended travelling to Windsor Castle to receive her OBE after months off work on sick leave.

Anne Donaghy was pictured receiving her honour from the Duke of Cambridge during an investiture ceremony on December 7.

She was awarded the OBE for services to local government and the community during the Covid-19 pandemic, hailed at the time by then DUP mayor Peter Johnston for her "unparalleled commitment to delivering excellent public services".

In a statement to Belfast Live, her solicitor said: "Anne attended to collect her OBE for services to the community. It related to her work on behalf of the council and its response to the pandemic.

"Her entitlement to do so and her ability to fly in a plane and stay in a hotel to collect her award has nothing to do with fitness to work issues.

"She remains unfit to work which is an entirely separate matter."

In September Ms Donaghy signed off from her work on sick leave and just days before the ceremony was placed on precautionary suspension by the council during an independent investigation into allegations of bullying and harassment.

A NIPSA survey of Mid and East Antrim staff found 61 per cent of respondents had experienced bullying.

The suspension - which was circulated to councillors in a password-protected confidential email - is the latest incident to rock the council, and come in the wake of a police raid on its Ballymena headquarters in October and a BBC Spotlight investigation.

The search was part of investigation into suspected offences of misconduct in public office and under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The council has been under increasing scrutiny following a controversial decision in February to remove its staff from Larne Harbour over fears of a loyalist paramilitary threat against workers carrying out post-Brexit checks on animal and food products from Great Britain.

A PSNI assessment found no indication of any threat to staff.

Following news of Ms Donaghy's suspension, it emerged that she plans to take legal action against Mid and East Antrim Borough Council for alleged "discrimination on grounds of her sex, religious and political beliefs".

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