Northern Ireland news

DUP councillor suspended for eight months over tweets about Sinn Féin's John Finucane

Mid and East Antrim councillor Marc Collins has been suspended for eight months

A DUP councillor has been suspended for eight months over tweets he posted about Sinn Féin MP John Finucane.

The local government watchdog found that Marc Collins, a member of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, had breached the code of conduct.

The Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman yesterday said his Twitter activity was "personally abusive" and his tweets during the 2019 election "contributed towards a toxic atmosphere".

He was sanctioned after a complaint involving a tweet he posted in November 2019 making an unfounded claim that Mr Finucane "supports and promotes the IRA" and "isn’t innocent by any means".

Mr Finucane, now the Sinn Féin MP for North Belfast, was the party's candidate in the general election at the time.

The watchdog said Mr Collins also re-tweeted another message promoting banners erected in Belfast that contained allegations against members of the Finucane family.

Acting Commissioner Katrin Shaw said his "Twitter activity went beyond the acceptable bounds of proper political debate and was unnecessary and personally abusive".

She said the councillor had failed to comply with the code of conduct by "failing to show respect" for Mr Finucane and his family.

She also said Mr Collins did not attend a sanctions hearing that took place last week after it had been re-scheduled on two occasions as a result of his unavailability.

Ms Shaw said she considered the mitigating factors, including that Mr Collins had no previous record of breaching the code, a letter written by him saying he did not intend to harm Mr Finucane or his family and his apology for not engaging with the investigation and adjudication process.

But she said it was a serious aggravating factor that his tweets "contributed towards a toxic atmosphere in north Belfast at the time of the general election".

"They also resulted in Mr Finucane believing that his own and his family’s safety were in jeopardy," according to Ms Shaw.

She said the councillor’s failure to engage in the investigation and adjudication process had resulted in "unnecessary costs" to the public purse.

Ms Shaw said her decision to suspend Mr Collins for eight months was a "necessary and proportionate response".

Following publication of the suspension given to Mr Collins, a DUP spokesperson last night said they would "consider the finding".

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