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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

MEA Mayor referred to council’s new Standards Committee over bonfire meeting

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna has been referred to the borough council’s new Standards Committee over the manner in which a special meeting on bonfire management was convened.

A special meeting scheduled to take place behind closed doors on June 21 was deferred until September.

Bonfire management by the borough council had already been deferred at meetings of the local authority each month since January. It had been due for discussion at an earlier June meeting but it was not scheduled.

Bonfire management has been highlighted in Mid and East Antrim following the death of Larne man John Steele after a fall from the Antiville bonfire in the town last July.

Mr Steele, who was in his 30s, and a father-of-two died while helping with the building of the bonfire on Saturday, July 9 2022.

The deferral was proposed by the TUV seconded by the UUP.

Speaking at this month’s meeting of the borough council at The Braid in Ballymena, on Monday evening, Bannside TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston asked the mayor if she wished to clarify any comments made at the special meeting.

Ald Mulvenna, a Coast Road Alliance representative, said that as mayor she called the meeting and her decision to do so was “certainly not a political one”.

“As mayor, I called this meeting and it was certainly not a political one and I did advise you that I was very clear about my decision to call the meeting and it was not political and I thought then I had made it quite clear.

“I explained my reason for doing so was in relation to legal advice provided and more importantly, as a priority for safety considerations.”

Cllr Gaston claimed an email to the interim chief executive had been received from Ald Mulvenna in her role as Alliance group leader requesting the meeting.

However, he suggested that Alliance did not have the “necessary numbers” to call a special meeting and Ald Mulvenna had “abused her position as mayor” and “used that special power given to the mayor’s office to call that special meeting”.

“I believe you misled the council chamber on that night, you have misled us here again.”  He told the chamber he believed that Ald Mulvenna’s position as mayor is “untenable” and he sought an apology.

The mayor said: “Thank-you very much for your comments. I made it quite clear and I did ring the chief executive to say I did call it as mayor and that it is my right to do that.

“The last thing I would ever intend to do is politicise the mayor’s office or the mayor. That was certainly not on my agenda at all and I am not going to waste any more time. I do not have to defend myself. I made it quite clear and I am not going to discuss it any more.”

Cllr Gaston asked the mayor to clarify how “this whole saga unfolded”.

“This is on one hand a right royal hash by the Alliance Party or it could be this serious that you misled this chamber and called into question your position as mayor into question.”

“Well you are entitled to your opinion, Cllr Gaston,” said Ald Mulvenna.

Cllr Gaston stated the matter should be referred to council’s Standards Committee for investigation.

“I believe you have breached the standard which should be set within the role of the mayor’s office and I ask the Standards Committee to investigate this matter and produce a report back to full council.”

Sinn Fein Coast Road Cllr James McKeown said: “I was going to propose that we defer this matter until the further meeting in September.”

“I believe that the mayor has accepted that deferral on the back of my recommendation. However, Cllr Gaston now wishes the mayor’s conduct to be referred to the Standards Committee of this council,” the interim chief executive advised.

“The mayor has agreed to that but that proposal needs to have a seconder.”

The proposal was subsequently seconded and agreed. The mayor said: “Including myself.”

Earlier,  interim chief executive Valerie Watts said that the minutes of the special meeting should not be approved until the meeting is reconvened in September.

Larne Lough DUP Cllr Gregg McKeen commented that he had written to the interim chief executive on this matter. He said: “I believe that the minute should not be brought forward because this meeting was adjourned to a future date.”

He expressed concern over confidentiality from the meeting as councillors are “dealing with legal opinion”.

He went on to say that he had been driving home from the meeting when he received a phone call to say that “everything that was being discussed was  in a public forum”.

The interim chief executive confirmed that with regard to an alleged breach of confidentiality in relation to that meeting, she said that she requested that she speak to the particular member whom she said had issued a press release.

“He and I have had a very serious discussion behind closed doors and I put some suggestions to the councillor for him to consider in terms of the way forward and to resolve that particular breach, I still await his decision in relation to that matter.”


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