“Belfast councillor Jolene Bunting suspended from duties ‘for criticising Islam,’”
A Belfast city councillor has been suspended from council duties for four months while investigations are carried out into complaints about public statements she made about Islam.
Independent councillor Jolene Bunting, who formerly represented the TUV, revealed on social media that she had been suspended from her duties “for criticising Islam”.
“This is a dark day for democracy and freedom of speech,” the Greater Shankill representative, who has been linked with the far-right Britain First group, posted on her Facebook page.
A statement issued by the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards said the Acting Commissioner had decided to suspend Councillor Bunting for four months while an investigation into complaints against her are ongoing.
The decision comes after an Interim Adjudication Hearing held at the Resolution Centre in Belfast on September 4.
“The Acting Commissioner Mr Ian Gordon found that there was prima facie evidence that Councillor Bunting had failed to comply with the Local Government Code of Conduct. He determined that a member of the public, knowing all of the relevant facts, would reasonably consider that her conduct had brought her position as a councillor and that of the council into disrepute,” the statement said.
“The Acting Commissioner found it likely that there has been continuing reputational damage to the City Council and that repeated failures by the respondent to comply with the code and subsequent publicity is likely to have had a negative impact on public confidence.
“He highlighted that the aim of the Code is to improve the standard of conduct expected of councillors and to foster public confidence in the ethical standards regime.
“The Acting Commissioner requested that the Interim Hearing be held after receiving an Interim Report on the complaints made against Councillor Bunting. Given the frequent, ongoing, repetitive and escalating nature of the alleged breaches of the Code, the Deputy Commissioner believed that suspension of the councillor was necessary while his full investigation into the complaints continued.”
The statement continued: “The complaints arose from public statements made by the councillor in relation to the Islamic religion, her association with the far-right group Britain First, and the publication of a meme on social media.
“The Hearing was told that from 15 December 2017 to 14 August 2018, 14 complaints were made against Councillor Bunting. One complaint was signed by 87 complainants, while another was signed by a total of 79 members of the public….