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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Gaston seeks internal investigation over alleged 'favouritism' toward one political party

Mid and East Antrim Councillor Timothy Gaston has spoken of his “serious concerns” over alleged favouritism towards one political party over honours nominations within Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Cllr Gaston, a Bannside TUV representative, highlighted his concerns at a meeting of the borough council on Monday evening.

Cllr Gaston had asked the acting chief executive to provide details of the honours submitted by members of the council’s senior management team since 2015 and reasons for doing so.

He told the meeting that three names had been redacted from the response he received to a tabled question.

He said: “I believe there is a public interest in the three names that have been redacted. I believe it points to favouritism to a party.

“I think going forward, we have to put something in place where there is an honour made on behalf of a person or by council. There has to be more transparency and indeed if it is a political figure that honour is made on behalf of, I certainly feel it needs to have chamber approval.

“I’ve no option but either ask this council to refer this to Audit and Scrutiny to consider the merits that these three people have been put forward under. I do believe that needs to be reviewed. and if this council doesn’t do that, I will be writing to the ones in charge of deciding on the honours asking them to withdraw that until additional information is considered or indeed this council carries out its own investigation.

“So I propose that question regarding the honours and three redacted names based on my concerns as raised and referred to Audit and Scrutiny for an internal investigation.”

The response contained in the minutes of last month’s council meeting shows that names of three individuals who were honoured with an MBE were not provided.

The information showed that one was nominated for services to local government, one was nominated for services to the community in Northern Ireland and a third was nominated for political and public service by the chief executive’s office.

It also says that Chief Executive Anne Donaghy was honoured with an OBE following nomination by the deputy chief executive. She was nominated for services to local government, the local community and the local economy.

The report points out that nominations are regularly proposed by elected members and are submitted through the chief executive’s office following consultation with the mayor at that time.

It advises that where an individual has been nominated and the application is under consideration or where the application was unsuccessful, the name has been redacted in line with council’s data protection legislation.

“In order to protect indirect identification of an individual, the citation has been redacted or partially redacted in line with council’s date protection obligations.”

Commenting at a previous meeting, the council minutes indicated that Cllr Gaston suggested that the reason for some names being redacted was that it could be “potentially damaging going forward and that it added to the theme, in his opinion, that there was a favoured party within Mid and East Antrim”.

The report went on to say that the acting chief executive responded that in a discussion with the honours office, it was advised that only names could be released of those who had already received honours and that a further check would be made in relation to what information could be provided through a Freedom of Information request.

The Honours System of the United Kingdom states: “All nominations for honours are treated in the strictest confidence. The nominee should not be told that they have been nominated, as it is not fair to raise their expectations.

“The nominee must not know that they are under consideration.”


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