‘Double jobbing’ row to go to Ombudsman

Gordon Lyons MLA.
Gordon Lyons MLA.

A UUP councillor says he will take his concerns over a former DUP councillor’s alleged double-jobbing to a “higher authority.”

Cllr Stephen Nicholl told the Times that he intends to approach the Local Government Ombudsman and the Assembly Commissioner for Complaints for clarity over a period of overlap between MLA Gordon Lyons’s former role on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and his new position in the Assembly.

Mr Lyons was co-opted onto the Assembly as an East Antrim MLA to replace MP Sammy Wilson.

Mr Lyons had previously told the Times that he had still been receiving his basic council allowance as well as his MLA’s allowance for a period between August 18 and September 7, when he said his council resignation took effect.

He signed the roll of membership to become an MLA at Stormont on August 19, after attending his last council committee meeting on August 18.

The MLA says that he gave notice to the Chief Executive on August 18 that he would be resigning and that this “took effect” on September 7.

Mr Lyons had previously told the Times that he had been advised by the Electoral Office that overlap between his two roles was “permissible”.

However, Cllr Nicholl cited the Local Government Bill, which states that “a resignation takes effect when it is received by the clerk of the council.”

In correspondance seen by the Times, Chief Electoral Officer Graham Shields informs Cllr Nicholl: “I have not spoken to Mr Lyons with regard to his resignation, nor am I aware of any of my colleagues having done so.

“Section 3 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014, which came into force on April 1 2015, bars MLAs, MPs, MEPs and Members of the House of Lords from being councillors.

“To be clear, neither I nor any of my colleagues would have any authority to grant a ‘dispensation’ to simultaneously hold dual mandates as a councillor and MLA.”

Mr Shields adds that it is “incumbent upon an MLA not to act in breach” of the Local Government Act.

Mr Lyons has since revealed that he has paid back £579.87 to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council after he asked the Chief Executive to investigate whether he had been overpaid.

According to Section 2 of the Electoral Law Act 2010 Order, the clerk of council must notify the Chief Electoral Officer ‘as soon as possible’ after a “casual vacancy arises.”

However, Mr Shields states that he only received an email from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy notifying him of councillor Lyons’s resignation on September 28.

When asked on what basis the council was insisting that Cllr Lyons’s resignation took effect on September 7 as opposed to August 18, a spokesperson commented: “Mid and East Antrim Borough Council received notification on 18 August of Cllr Lyon’s resignation. This took effect on 7 September.”

Cllr Nicholl stated: “I don’t know if it is possible to ‘back date’ a resignation like that to an ‘effective date.’ The Chief Electoral Officer is clear that it’s the MLA’s responsibility . We are coming into an Assembly election where a number of councillors will become MLAs and unless there is clarity there will be confusion next May. We need to fix the system before more people are carrying out two jobs without regard to legislation.”

Mr Lyons told the Times: “I spoke to a member of staff in the electoral office following my nomination to the Assembly and it was communicated to me that resignation from Council was not automatic, but that resignation would need to be submitted to the Council. I do not have a name of the person that I spoke to.

“My meeting on August 18 was my last council meeting and I gave notice to the Chief Executive that night that as a result of my appointment to the Assembly that I would be resigning and that the 18th would be my last council meeting; there were no more council meetings until after my resignation became effective on September 7.

“When this issue was first raised, I spoke to the Chief Executive and asked that she look into any payments that were made during that period that should not have been.As a result, on Thursday October 22 she wrote to me asking that £579.87 that was paid to me during that period be paid back. I have since done this.”