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‘Stop using Chief Executive as a political football’ MPs tell MEA councillors

Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

MP’s Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson have released a statement today (Monday 27 September) hitting out at Mid and East Antrim councillors, accusing them of conducting a ‘campaign of harassment’ against the Council Chief Executive, Anne Donaghy.

The embattled Chief Executive has been

embroiled in a number of public controversies including the row over the removal of officers at Larne Port involved in enforcing checks linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol arrangements.

Council insiders have recently spoken of a toxic culture at the heart of the local authority and claims have been made of bullying and harassment, as dissension erupted over working arrangements for staff at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Today‘s intervention from the East Antrim and North Antrim MP’s comes as Ms Donaghy begins a period of sick leave, understood to be related to stress.

MP for North Antrim, Ian Paisley

In the statement, Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson have demanded that councillors stop using the Chief Executive as a ’political punchbag‘:

“Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson, the two DUP MPs who represent the area covered by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, have demanded that those councillors who have conducted a campaign of harassment against Anne Donaghy, the Chief Executive, stop using her like a political punch bag. The unholy alliance of TUV, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionist and Alliance parties have been relentless in their pursuit of Anne Donaghy and the latest claims of bullying have resulted in her having to take sick leave for the first time ever in her working life.

“Anne has been the Chief Executive of the Ballymena and then Mid and East Antrim Councils for thirteen years. It is significant that in all that time not one accusation of bullying has ever been made against her until the last couple of weeks and that those claims coincide with the TUV/Sinn Fein complaints about her handling of the effects of the NIP on council employees and her attempts to protect them from threats, and the opposition of some council workers who are required to return to work after 18 months out of the office because of Covid. They also know full well that there are council procedures for investigating such claims yet chose to go to the media with the issue rather than use the council systems.

MP for East Antrim, Sammy Wilson

“In fact, her record as a good leader of the council is one to be proud of. Never a day missed from work in thirteen years, awarded Chief Executive of the year, and recognised for the improvements she has brought to the council.

“Under her leadership, MEA is now recognised as one of the lead performers in planning, waste management and community development. While many other public service sectors are wallowing in high levels of sickness absences, under her leadership MEA Council has seen staff absences fall from 19 days per worker to 7 days, one of best records in public bodies. Council assets have increased by 28%, loans reduced by 10% and £9m of new capital spending on play parks, community facilities and tourist infrastructure have been delivered during Covid when many other councils did not deliver projects on the ground plus this was done without any extra borrowing.

“The whole of the council area has been through a tough time economically with huge job losses in Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus. Anne has been energetic in leading the council to respond proactively to these devastating blows seeking out new investors, putting in council resources to help workers find new jobs, and driving initiatives such as the Huron Trading Academy to train and retrain workers for job opportunities. We know how instrumental she has been in obtaining £80mn from the City deal which will be used to develop St Patricks Barracks in Ballymena, Carrick Town Centre and improve the Gobbins path, now a major tourist driver in the area.

“During the Covid crisis, MEA council as a result of the drive and leadership which she brought to the council team was one of the first to establish the Community Covid recovery grant scheme and pioneer initiatives to help the most vulnerable and get businesses operating again. In fact, the council picked up Gold in the APSE awards for its work on this in September.

“We know from working with Anne Donaghy on a weekly basis how instrumental her leadership has been in enabling many of the excellent council staff to deliver the service which the Council does across the area. The achievements of the council would never have been possible if she was the kind of Chief Executive that these backbiting, calculating, opportunistic politicians who are baying for her blood, are portraying her as. The question must also be asked about the current bullying allegations - how come Anne Donaghy’s record for thirteen years in this organisation is unblemished until now and is there any coincidence that these allegations are only being made now that she is responsible for implementing the instruction of the full council for staff to come back to work?

“Over the years she has been in post she has been relentlessly pursued by one journalist encouraged by some councillors. She has been trolled on social media and attacked by some who think she is too unionist and others who resent a Roman Catholic from South Armagh holding the position she does in a mainly Protestant area. We understand that staff have been canvassed to make bullying claims and rather than use council procedures those claims were released to the media before there had been any chance to test them. She has endured this campaign of harassment yet carried out her job professionally while balancing life as a single mum of two children one who has Down’s Syndrome. That is a remarkable achievement. While she has been maligned the real villains are those who use their position to attack her knowing that she cannot answer in kind. If they had any decency they should lay off or maybe it is time that they should be investigated by the ombudsman for breaking the councillors code of conduct.”

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