‘Politicisation of council staff’ queried by councillor

A Dungannon councillor has expressed concern that a motion passed by Mid Ulster District Council calling for the creation of workshops to discuss Irish unity could lead to the politicisation of Council’s staff.

Monday, 7th June 2021, 4:33 pm

At May’s monthly Council meeting held on Thursday, May 27, Sinn Fein councillor John McNamee brought a motion to the chamber calling for Council to establish workshops on Irish unity.

The motion reads: “That this Council recognises that the discussions about a constitutional change is now well under way and this Council has a duty to consult with its ratepayers on this important issue and the implications for the Council area.

“Therefore, calls on Council to progress workshops on Irish unity and to begin a consultation with ratepayers and community and business representatives to assess views on the issues related to constitutional change.”

Cllr Clement Cuthbertson

The motion carried with 25 councillors voting in favour of it and 15 voting against it.

Reflecting on what the chamber has agreed to, Councillor Clement Cuthbertson pondered the implications of a motion he claimed could place Council staff in an “extremely uncomfortable position”.

“There is real concern that this republican motion will politicise Mid Ulster District Council staff and place them in an extremely uncomfortable position” said Cllr Cuthbertson.

“There are also many unanswered questions in relation to staffing, will staff be expected to hold these same narrow minded republican views and will staff be penalised if they are not comfortable with what everyone sees as a political lobbying role for staff?

“How will the business community ever take Mid Ulster District Council seriously again if, during the current recovery from the pandemic, Council is focused on this nonsense rather than addressing the real issues and hurdles which businesses are facing.”

Councillor Cuthbertson also claimed the motion will “further alienate” the district’s unionist community and foreign nationals who travelled to Mid Ulster to be part of the United Kingdom.

“This divisive motion, forced through Council, will only add further to the alienation of the minority unionist community in the district,” said Cllr Cuthbertson.

“It will also have an adverse impact on the area’s high population of foreign nationals, many of whom travelled great distances around the world to live in Northern Ireland, be British and enjoy life living in the UK.”

Following these comments, the Local Democracy Reporting Service asked Mid Ulster District Council a series of questions including if staff will be penalised if they are not comfortable working to facilitate workshops on Irish unity.

Council was also asked if current and future Council employees who are in, or apply for, positions that facilitate these workshops will be required to declare their view on this political issue; if Council has facilitated any other workshops working towards one political goal or if this was a first;

If Council agreed that in organising these workshops, Council’s corporate body and staff could be viewed as political lobbyists; if any staff had raised concerns, formally or otherwise, about being linked to these workshops on Irish unity and when Council anticipates it will be in a position to launch the consultation with businesses and households.

Finally, Council was asked if it could guarantee work on this project will not add to staff workloads and increase the potential for backlogs or delays in other services.

In response, a spokesperson for Council said to pose such questions of, and about, Council officials is “highly inappropriate”.

“This Council is a democratically elected body and it makes decisions,” said a spokesperson for Mid Ulster District Council.

“The role of Council officials is to implement those decisions with absolute impartiality at all times, as clearly articulated in the Local Government Code of Conduct.

“To even suggest, as these questions do, that the impartiality of staff in carrying out their duties and implementing the Council’s decisions would or could be compromised in any way is unfounded, unjustified, unfair and extremely unhelpful.

“Questions about political issues should be directed to politicians.”

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