A DUP councillor described as a “poodle” at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council on Monday evening is threatening legal action against a TUV member.
In a statement issued to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting, Carrickfergus Castle Cllr John McDermott said:
“I’m shocked and saddened but not surprised.
“Calling another councillor a poodle and therefore by definition an animal, goes well beyond acceptable debate in the council chamber.
“I shall be referring the matter to the Council Ombudsman as a matter of urgency. I will also be taking legal advice for defamation and slander.”
The comment was made by Bannside TUV representative Councillor Timothy Gaston who told the new Interim Chief Executive Valerie Watts that she should “put a leash on the poodle”.
Cllr Gaston said that last month he had queried a council staff survey in relation to a performance improvement plan.
He stated that he wanted to “clarify regarding online post”.
He claimed that Cllr McDermott had been trying to “deflect attention away from what the staffing survey is likely to show”.
He said it was “about time Cllr Dermott’s conduct was called out in this chamber. It is unacceptable and it is up to the new acting chief executive to put a leash on the poodle”.
Moving on to a response to a previously tabled question in relation to FoIs, he sought further clarity from the acting chief executive “moving forward”
“I had specified the time frame of February 2022 to now asking if all FoIs had been answered.
“I am looking assurance from the acting chief executive that when a question is tabled from a member, surely the member and members in this chamber when there is a question tabled should have been informed there were outstanding FoIs from last year.”
The a chief executive said: “Clearly a lot of these issues are very new to me I’ll very quickly bring myself up to speed and try to endeavour to give all councillors specific answers to specific questions that they ask.”
Larne Lough DUP councillor Alderman Paul Reid asked: “Is it appropriate behaviour – you can disagree strongly with someone, but to refer to an individual, an elected member as an animal, a dog, a poodle, I believe is the terminology, I don’t believe that’s proper procedure Mr Mayor, I would ask you to rule on that and ask the member to withdraw that comment please.”
The interim chief executive reminded all members of council that they must not under the Local Government Act make any vexatious, malicious or frivolous complaints or comments against other councillors or anyone who works for on behalf of the council under the Code of Conduct for Councillors.
“You are expected and indeed held to account for showing respect to all fellow councillors and officers of council in the chamber at all times.”
Cllr McDermott proceeded to say: “My name has been mentioned. I want to know what I did. Now somebody’s got a note somewhere, maybe if Cllr Gaston has it he could let me know.
“He will certainly have to let the Ombudsman know. But I want to know now.”
Mid and East Antrim Mayor Alderman Noel Williams stated: “Cllr McDermott, we are not going into an investigation now. The chief made it absolutely clear about the conduct in this chamber.”