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  • Michelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Mayor warns of legal consequences as investigation launched

An independent investigation is to be carried out to ensure Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s policies are “fit for purpose” following leaks to the media, councillors have been told.

The decision was reached at a meeting on Monday evening following a discussion over confidentiality.

Mid and East Antrim Mayor Councillor William McCaughey warned of ‘legal consequences’ of releasing information from closed business, saying:

“The corporate solicitor has advised that detailed discussions and decisions of closed business should only be available for publication following an assessment that they are suitable for publication.”

The mayor was seeking a proposal for the adoption of the minutes of last month’s special meeting during which staffing matters were discussed behind closed doors following the absence of Chief Executive Anne Donaghy on sick leave.

Currently, the local authority’s Operations Director Philip Thompson is Acting Chief Executive.

Carrickfergus DUP councillor Alderman Billy Ashe insisted that “democracy should be adhered to before we are given legal advice”.

“Following that lecture we have just been given, I wonder should I even open my mouth. But as normal I will as I believe in democracy and democracy should be adhered to,” he stated.

Ballymena councillor Alderman Audrey Wales said that she wanted to raise an issue regarding the special meeting in October.

“But following on from what you said, I will not do so”, she stated.

Knockagh Independent Councillor Bobby Hadden proposed the accuracy of the minutes be adopted seconded by Coast Road Sinn Fein Councillor James McKeown, before it was put to a vote which was carried with 22 in favour and the DUP abstaining, including the Mayor.

At last month’s special meeting, Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Danny Donnelly, seconded by party colleague Knockagh councillor Alderman Noel Williams, proposed that the council refers a draft corporate procedure on the “discipline, capability and redundancy relating to the role of the chief executive” to the Department for Communities for independent advice on the “robustness and viability” of the procedure and that the council does not proceed until that advice is “received, considered and agreed as the way forward”.

Cllr Donnelly’s proposal was carried by 22 votes to 16.

On the proposal of Ald Williams, seconded by Carrickfergus Ulster Unionist Councillor Robin Stewart, it was agreed unanimously that the council continues with the rotation of directors pending the recruitment and appointment of an interim clerk and chief executive officer.

At Monday’s meeting, Cllr McKeen commented that members are reading in the Press “things that are news to us”.

He said: “I would like to make a proposal that an independent investigation be carried out as to how sensitive information continues to appear in the media and a review is undertaken to ensure policies are robust and fit for purpose in future to allow this not to happen.

“There was a press article naming companies that have appointed by the council regarding investigations that none of us were aware of. Two companies were named. We as members did not know what was going on. Who was being appointed? Why they were being appointed?” he insisted.

“I propose we carry out an investigation to ensure things like this are better controlled and at least we as members before we read something in the press or see it on social media are at least aware what is going on in this council.”

Cllr McKeen’s proposal was seconded by Larne Lough Ulster Unionist Councillor Keith Turner.

Cllr Turner commented: “It is disconcerting for us members to hear things happen in the council to have no knowledge of it.”

Mr Thompson confirmed that an independent investigation will be carried out to ensure policies are fit for purpose.

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