Unionists and nationalists clash over McShane legal funding

Peter Winter

Reporter:

Peter Winter

Email:

peter.winter@thechronicle.uk.com

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council has split down national/unionist lines over legal backing for a councillor who made allegations against senior officers.

Padraig McShane named two members of staff in an affidavit which is now in the hands of a judge presiding over a High Court challenge to the council's decision to approve a £20m hotel development on the outskirts of Portstewart.

The 120-bedroom Merrow Hotel and Spa Resort planned for a site at the NW200 paddock is the subject of a judicial review launched by MLA Jim Allister and the owner of another property nearby.

Proceedings were brought to a halt just before Christmas when Mr McShane's sworn statement was presented to the court.

Mr Allister's lawyers said the statement raised “very serious matters” that required investigation.

Before the case was adjourned, the court heard he'd made claims about recorded conversations with officials.

Since his dramatic intervention council lawyers have applied for disclosure of the relevant tapes while Mr McShane is pursuing whistle-blower status which would see his legal costs met by public funds.

Both matters were the subject of a closed doors meeting on January 17.

Since they were published last week, the minutes of the meeting make it clear the question of funding for Mr McShane's legal costs has divided the chamber down strict party lines.

Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein supported unlimited legal protection.

A single unionist, Ian Stevenson, voted with nationalist and republican parties. He is currently suspended from the DUP pending the outcome of his appeal against a sexual assault conviction.

However, a coalition of DUP, UUP, TUV and independents ensured the motion was defeated.

The rejected proposal tabled by the SDLP's Stephanie Quigley would have ensured Mr McShane received “full legal protection” during the current judicial review proceedings as well as “future actions not anticipated presently that may arise from these proceedings”.

The move also sought to provide Mr McShane with access to any information he or his legal representatives deem necessary to fight their case.

The motion concluded with a declaration that “public representatives in this organisation at all times should be comfortable in the knowledge that this corporate body has nothing to hide.”

After its defeat the SDLP tried again with a proposal to afford Mr McShane the same legal protection officers involved in the case were receiving.

Earlier the chamber heard officers' costs were covered by staff insurance arrangements. That motion was also defeated by unionists.

According to the minutes, lawyers attending the meeting advised members of the council's legal obligations surrounding Mr McShane's costs and his rights under whistle-blowing policy. However the minutes do not state what those obligations are.

At the end of the meeting, which lasted over four hours, it was agreed to fund legal advice only in relation to recordings made by Mr McShane.

He will receive the funding only if he is refused legal aid.

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