Mid and East Antrim Borough Council: DFC Intervention

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 1st November 2021.

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Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance 2:30 pm, 1st November 2021

T2. Mr Blair asked the Minister for Communities, given recent events and publicity, what action her Department is taking to ensure that the morale and confidence of staff, councillors and, indeed, ratepayers in the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area is restored and protected. (AQT 1712/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I can understand the concerns that have been raised. Members from different parties have raised concerns with me and done so publicly as well. In recent weeks, there have been interventions by the police and others. I have looked at the limits of my powers and my ability to intervene. I continue to keep options open where I am able to do that. That said, councils are autonomous bodies. I have intervened in other scenarios, so I have no fear of intervening, but I have to make sure that, where I intervene, I am legally allowed to do so. I am keeping under careful consideration all of the matters that have come to the fore recently. I will continue to engage. If I need to make an intervention and I believe that it is the right thing to do, I will have no hesitation in doing that.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Minister for that answer. These are difficult issues. In light of the detail given in the answer and some of the issues that I referred to in my question, may I ask whether the processes that are in place are to be reviewed as a result of the recent events and the publicity around them?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Publicity is one thing but facts and information can be another, given what is out there in public forums or arenas. It is about establishing the facts and whether I can assess that, legally, I have the grounds to ask for more detail. As I said, councils are autonomous bodies in their own right. They have their own procedures to deal with things, whether those are to do with staff or councillors or wider issues. I am aware of the public interest element and that there might be such an effect that those who live in the borough have real concerns. I will continue to keep that under review, but I need the information and the facts. Saying something in public or making an assertion is not factual, and I look at black-and-white scenarios. I continue to keep the matter under review, and my officials continue to engage with the council. That is all that I can say on the matter at this point.