18 Aug 2022

Councillors vote unanimously to implement Audit recommendations

A motion calling on the CEO to resign has been referred to a Council Committee.

Councillors vote unanimously to implement Audit recommendations

A DUP amendment has laid out how the processes will be conducted.

Councillors on Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council have voted unanimously to implement the recommendations of a damning Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) report into land deals under its jurisdiction.

The Audit found some easements and disposals were 'not granted lawfully' and recommended an independent review of Council's governance arrangements and training for elected members.

It also said Council should take 'appropriate action' where Senior Council Officer behaviour had 'fallen short' of standards and called on the Department for Communities (DfC) to carry out a 'detailed consideration' of its responsibilities for Council.

At tonight's Special Meeting, councillors voted en masse to implement the recommendations, with a DUP amendment asking Council to incorporate existing processes into the implementation.

"We note the established mechanism for investigating questions of discipline raised in connection with the Chief Executive of a local authority in Northern Ireland," said Cllr John McAuley.

"This mechanism is specified in the 1996 agreement on discipline capability and redundancy of the joint negotiating committee for clerks and chief executives to local authorities in Northern Ireland.

DUP councillor John McAuley.

"Paragraphs 3-11 of that agreement establish the process to be followed and we call on the Council to incorporate this approach as part of its response to recommendations 6 and 7, whilst also recognising there are distinct disciplinary processes which may exist for other local government employees.

"We also request that Council seek regular and detailed co-operation with the Local Government Staff Commission for Northern Ireland in respect of any relevant matters arising from the Audit Report recommendations and their implementation."

After granting permission to UTV - and later the BBC - to record proceedings, the Council heard from Cllr Pádraig McShane, who proposed the implementation of the recommendations, seconded by Cllr Stephanie Quigley.

In between paying tributes to the late David Trimble, councillors reiterated their initial responses to the report, with Sinn Féin's Cllr Leanne Peacock stressing the importance of members having 'accurate, politically neutral information that is in the interest of ratepayers'.

Cllr Leanne Peacock of Sinn Féin.

SDLP councillor Margaret Anne McKillop indicated their support of the proposal and amendment, while Alliance's Chris McCaw welcomed the fact all members appeared to be 'on the same page'.

Cllr Russell Watton of the PUP welcomed the fact the report was bringing this 'long haul' to an end but criticised the input of Jim Allister MLA in the process, accusing him of being a 'NIMBY'.

The acronym (Not In My Back Yard) refers to someone objecting to developments on the basis of them being within their own area.

"I'm not defending what happened, but we have to go through a procedure of some sort," he said.

"I'm absolutely disgusted with Jim Allister asking for a resignation. Jim Allister wasn't worried about processes, or about the ratepayer. He was more worried about his view, that's all he was worried about.

"I already said it in here; he was a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). I don't know where we're going from here but we'll see what happens over the next few months."

PUP councillor Russell Watton accused North Antrim MLA Jim Allister of being a 'NIMBY'.

Cllr William McCandless suggested the uncertainty following the merging of four legacy councils may have led to 'ambiguity', and defended senior officers.

"In 2015-16, we were working with legacy arrangements and this may have led to uncertainty within certain areas," he said.

"Four of these recommendations are already in place. A Land and Property Sub Committee has been formed, and is a step in the right direction."

Cllr McCandless questioned whether the PSNI would find any evidence of wrong-doing, given they had previously not taken any action after previous audits, highlighting that the report said the threshold for willful misconduct 'had not been reached'.

"Where is the fraud, the corruption, the criminality, the willful misconduct that we've been hearing about for years?" he asked Council.

"These allegations have been made against our senior officers for years, and it is a testimony to them that they have continued working in spite of the relentless pressure.

Independent councillor Stephanie Quigley.

"The majority of councillors have endured comments questioning our integrity. We have a duty to our electorate to ensure matters are conducted properly, but do we not also have a duty of care to our council employees?

"What has been the cost to Council of all these audits that keep proving no criminality or fraud? This must end as the only purpose it is achieving is a dysfunctional chamber and an unsettling atmosphere."

Cllr Stephanie Quigley said she was 'stunned' by Cllr McCandless' behaviour and comments, and quoted the report that said there 'was a case for finding the easement has not been granted lawfully', and then accused Cllr McCandless of 'shouting over' her.

"The document is black and white; we can no longer defend the indefensible," she added.

"I thank the DUP coming in with the amendment to ensure this discipline is enforced."

Councillors then voted unanimously to accept and implement the recommendations in the NIAO report, framed by the DUP amendment.

A notice of motion on the agenda from Cllr P McShane calling on the Chief Executive to resign, along with a number of other proposals, was referred to Council's Corporate Policy and Resources (CPR) Committee.

Another full Council meeting will be held next week, on August 2.

"See you all next Tuesday night," said Mayor Cllr Ivor Wallace, drawing the meeting to a close.

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