Belfast councillor suspended over Britain First video message

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A Belfast councillor has been suspended after she facilitated Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen sending a video message from the Lord Mayor’s chair.

The incident is one of a number of complaints made against independent unionist councillor Jolene Bunting.

On Tuesday she became the first councillor in Northern Ireland to be suspended following an interim hearing by the local government watchdog, while the main investigation continues.

The Local Government Commissioner for Standards in Northern Ireland is investigating 14 complaints about Ms Bunting’s behaviour.

Jayda Fransen
Jayda Fransen (Gareth Fuller/PA)

During the visit Ms Fransen filmed a video for her supporters while sitting in the Lord Mayor’s chair in Belfast City Hall dressed in councillors’ robes.

Another complaint was over a frog cartoon Ms Bunting posted on Twitter that was criticised by other councillors as “racist and offensive”.

One of the other complaints was signed by 79 members of the public, criticising her participation in the Northern Ireland against Terrorism rally on August 6 2017, alongside Britain First leaders, as well as comments she made to the media about the Islamic faith.

The number of complaints has been described by deputy commissioner Paul McFadden as “unprecedented”.

Ms Bunting has vowed to fight the ruling, and says she has instructed her solicitor to appeal against her suspension at the High Court.

Earlier this month acting commissioner Ian Gordon chaired an interim hearing.

It follows an interim report by Mr McFadden which recommended it was in the public interest for Ms Bunting to be suspended for six months.

During the interim hearing, counsel for Ms Bunting argued against that, pointing out that none of the complainants were among Ms Bunting’s constituents, and that it was in the public interest to allow her voters to continue to be represented.

On Tuesday Mr Gordon announced Ms Bunting will be suspended for four months.

He found there was prima facie evidence that Ms Bunting failed to comply with the Local Government Code of Conduct.

He determined that a member of the public, knowing all the relevant facts, would reasonably consider that her conduct had brought her position as a councillor and that of the council into disrepute.

He found it likely there has been continuing reputational damage to the council and repeated failures by the respondent to comply with the code and the subsequent publicity is likely to have had a negative impact on public confidence.

A date for a full hearing is yet to be announced.

Ms Bunting said in a video posted to her Facebook page: “No sitting Belfast city councillor has actually been suspended, and no councillor has been suspended or disqualified for simply stating facts and their opinion, or associating with people who the establishment don’t like.

“It’s an absolute joke. I plan on taking it to the High Court, I have instructed my solicitor that no matter what, I am taking it to the High Court. I am fighting this.

“My grandfather went to war, World War Two, he was very lucky he survived.

“Thousands of people from my constituency died in both world wars, for what? For them to take my freedom away as a councillor for the Shankill? I don’t think so.”

Ms Bunting had previously been associated with Britain First, but has insisted she was never a member of the organisation. She has since distanced herself from the group.

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