Long says Audit Office report has ‘vindicated’ Alliance’s concerns over Castlereagh Council

Alliance Castlereagh Councillor Michael Long has said an Audit Office report revealed today has vindicated the Alliance Party’s concerns over the DUP’s involvement in the Council’s senior management team.

A DUP representative has been appointed to the committee every year since 1997, when then Councillor Peter Robinson was selected to assist a new Chief Executive. Alliance had previously tried to end the practice in 2011 on hearing it was still in existence, but Unionists voted to continue the arrangement.

Councillor Long has since had to submit repeated Freedom of Information requests to obtain heavily redacted minutes of meetings since then, as Unionist parties voted against making them available to all Councillors later in 2011.

Now that the Audit Office has said this arrangement is not normal practice, and referenced it could lead to misunderstandings or perceived conflicts of interest, Councillor Long has said Alliance will continue to campaign for the end of this practice, calling it an example of bad governance.

Councillor Michael Long said: “This Audit Office report has vindicated the Alliance Party’s concerns over the DUP’s involvement in Castlereagh Council Management Team. I believe that this arrangement is wholly inappropriate as it has may give the DUP an unfair advantage as this committee shapes a lot of the Council business.

“This report has raised questions about the lack of openness and transparency of this body. In terms of this, the Council now has to change its position to allow redacted minutes to be made available to all Councillors after Unionist Councillors had previously voted to oppose such a measure. At least it will now be easier for all Councillors to have some idea of what is being proposed. As the report notes, many public bodies make such minutes widely available without redaction so there is still some way to go in terms of providing openness.

“This report also highlighted the fact that the Team has been operating without proper terms of reference for over 16 years and which the Council will have to introduce as a result of the concerns we raised. It is deeply worrying that such an important body has operated in such a way for so long without such regulation.

“This report highlights issues which definitely should be improved; however, we will continue to call for an end to the practise altogether as we feel that it is an example of very poor governance. We would also press the Minister to ensure that this kind of procedure is legislatively banned in his upcoming Local Government Bill.”

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