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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

‘Growing need to protect councillors from intimidation' after councillor called a ‘poodle’

The interim chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has acknowledged a “growing need to protect councillors from intimidation” after a name-calling incident in the chamber.

Valerie Watts was speaking in response to a query by Carrickfergus DUP Councillor John McDermott regarding an omission of the incident from the minutes of last month’s council meeting.

The comment was made by Bannside TUV representative Councillor Timothy Gaston who told the interim chief executive that she should “put a leash on the poodle”.

Speaking at the August meeting of the borough council on Monday evening, Cllr McDermott said: “Last month, I was subjected to an insult from one of the members of the TUV.

“That comment is not included in the minutes. Now rightly or wrongly, I am asking why. I tend to suspect there is a bit of sanitation going on.”

The interim chief executive said she has been reviewing the situation. She said that the Local Government Association “recognises the growing need to protect councillors from intimidation”.

“I am also well aware some councillors and officers have been subjected to abuse, to threats and intimidation which in turn undermines the principles of free speech, democratic engagement and political debate.

“One of the rules of general advice on handling intimidation or unwarranted comments towards councillors or employees is to keep an accurate record of any intimidatory or abusive communication, behaviour or comments.

“Therefore I have ruled that the minute of the full council meeting is amended to include Cllr Gaston’s remarks.”

Mayor Alderman Noel Williams reminded that under the Local Government Act, councillors must not make any “vexatious, malicious or frivolous comments or complaints against other councillors or anyone who works for or on behalf of council.

“Under the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, members are expected and indeed held to account for showing respect to all fellow councillors and indeed officers of council in the chamber at all times.”

The interim chief executive instructed that the minutes be amended to include Cllr Gaston’s remarks.


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