Derek Hussey's council role untenable

Derek Hussey has a long history of public service, starting his involvement in local government more than three decades ago and going on to sit in both the Northern Ireland Assembly and more recently the Derry City and Strabane District Council.

He unfortunately has a detailed record of another kind, with his third and most recent conviction for drink driving offences coming in 2016 and resulting in the loss of his licence for a five year period.

Mr Hussey nonetheless retained his position as an elected representative and was chosen in 2018 to be both deputy mayor of his council and chair of the district's Policing and Community Safety Partnership.

This sent out a highly unusual message about road safety issues and it was hardly surprising that relatives of victims of traffic accidents expressed their deep concern about both his appointments.

The Local Government Commissioner for Standards eventually intervened and Mr Hussey was disqualified from being a councillor for a period of 15 months commencing in July, 2019.

It was a sad outcome at a personal level for Mr Hussey, but it would been widely assumed that his local government career was over after another member of the Ulster Unionist Party, Andy McKane, was selected to take his seat in the Castlederg area of Co Tyrone.

Remarkably, it was announced last week that Mr McKane was standing down and the Ulster Unionist Party had nominated none other than Mr Hussey to replace him with immediate effect.

The party said that Mr Hussey had apologised profusely for his previous action and now wished to focus on working for all the people in his area.

Mr Hussey may well have a voluntary contribution to make within either a party or a community context, but, regardless of his political affiliation, it is simply inappropriate that he should be paid from the public purse to take civic decisions.

Under the terms of the local government legislation, his present position on his district council does not depend on the electorate and is entirely a matter for the Ulster Unionist Party

At a time when public confidence in our elected institutions is under considerable strain, with resignations taking place elsewhere on matters of principle, there will be a strong expectation that the Ulster Unionist leadership will urgently clarify its attitude towards the case of Mr Hussey.