No comment as councillor targets code

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Both the Northern Ireland Ombudsman’s Office and Banbridge Council have declined to comment on a Dromore councillor’s stated intention to challenge the NI Local Government Code of Conduct for Councillors, under which she is reportedly being investigated.

Neither would confirm under which of code’s 12 Principles of Conduct and/or 20 Rules of General Conduct Ulster Unionist Councillor Carol Black might be investigated in respect of a Halloween party at which she was pictured with an unconnected guest dressed as Osama Bin Laden, a matter in which she was cleared internally by her party.

Ms Black argues that under what she believes to be an overly intrusive code, a councillor can be accused of misconduct should they do anything anyone considers offensive or inappropriate, this, she says, without any right of appeal short of seeking a judicial review.

She contends that councillors’ private emails and texts can be used against them, again something neither the Ombudsman’s office nor district council would confirm or deny.

Having largely come into effect on May 28 last year, the Assembly-approved code must be observed during the conduct of council business, when otherwise acting, or claiming to act, in the role of councillor or council representative and when representing the council on another body, save where that body has its own code of conduct or where complying with the code conflicts with other lawful obligations to which the body in question may be subject.

The code must be observed in relation to conduct which could reasonabl y be regarded as bringing the council or position of councillor into disrepute, conduct encouraging breach of the code, conduct relating to improper use of position or council resources.

The Ombudsman, as Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints, enforces the code, under which penalties include censure, suspension or partial suspension from being a councillor for up to a year or disqualification from serving as a councillor for up to five years.

A spokesperson said the Ombudsman could not comment on an investigation.

Likewise, a spokesperson for Banbridge District Council, said: “The council are unable to comment on any aspect of an individual Councillor in relation to the Code of Conduct as this is a matter between the NI Ombudsman and said Councillor.”