Northern Ireland

Councillor suspended over Palestinian flag row

Padraig McShane
Image caption Padraig McShane was pictured alongside the Irish tricolour and Palestinian flags draped in the council chamber

An independent member of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council has been suspended for three months following a row over flags.

In June last year photographs emerged of an Irish tricolour and the Palestinian flag draped over a bench at the council's Coleraine headquarters.

Ballycastle councillor Padraig McShane was pictured beside the flags.

Mr McShane was found to have committed four breaches of the councillors' code of conduct.

A solicitor for Mr McShane said he would appeal the decision and described it as "an attempt to sanction an elected politician for expressing political views".

"This sanction is an attempt to silence our client and prevent him from properly representing his constituents," he said.

The image appeared in several newspapers and showed Mr McShane with Derry City and Strabane District Council independent members Gary Donnelly and Darren O'Reilly, along with a visitor from Gaza, Mohammed Al-Halabi who was sitting in the mayor's chair.

It was heard at an adjudication hearing earlier this month that flags had never been displayed inside the chamber of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council since its inception in 2015, until the photograph emerged.

The hearing was told that the council was "grappling" with its policy on flags in the days before the picture appeared in the press.

The process was launched following a DUP complaint about Mr McShane's conduct.

Mr McShane did not attend the Local Government Commissioner for Standards sanctions hearing in Coleraine on Thursday, but it proceeded in his absence.

'Sensitivity'

In announcing his decision to impose the sanction of a three month full suspension, acting commissioner Ian Gordon said: "The respondent had sought permission to show personal visitors the council chamber and mayor's parlour; he had not sought permission to display flags in the chamber.

"He was aware of the current sensitivity and issues around flags both in his council and elsewhere in Northern Ireland.

"This was a misuse of the council chamber and his subsequent publication of the photograph was an attempt to use his position as a councillor to secure a political advantage for himself or others.

Image caption Mr McShane questioned objections to the tricolour flag in the chamber, when a union flag flies outside the council building

"The surreptitious manner in which the flags were displayed demonstrates his disregard for his council's developing policy on flags and was an improper use of the chamber.

"His deliberate actions and the subsequent publicity, generated by himself, were likely to cause controversy and brought the role of a councillor and his council into disrepute."

'Unconcerned'

Mr Gordon said Mr McShane's decision not to appear at the hearing and comment on his actions showed there was "no evidence that he has shown insight or reflection on any of his failures to comply".

"To the contrary, it appears from quotes in the media, attributed to the respondent, that he is unconcerned about the outcome of his actions."

During his suspension period, which begins on 28 November, Mr McShane will not be allowed to attend council or committee meetings.

He may also be denied payment of allowances.

Mr McShane is only the second councillor in Northern Ireland found to have breached the local government code.

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