A Sinn Fein councillor has been reported to the local government standards watchdog after claiming she has been subjected to regular abuse by other elected representatives.
Michelle O’Neill used a press conference at Stormont on Tuesday to condemn what she called a campaign of “abuse, discrimination, aggression and misogyny” towards Patrice Hardy, one of two Sinn Fein representatives on the unionist-dominated Mid and East Antrim Council.
Ms O’Neill said her party colleague was being subjected to this kind of abuse at every council meeting, adding: “It’s totally unacceptable behaviour that any representative would go in to deal with their constituents’ concerns and fight the corner of their constituents but yet every time being verbally abused, personally attacked by some parties.”
Describing the Mid and East Antrim chamber as a “very hostile environment”, Ms Hardy claimed she was being abused because she is “a minority”.
But the Bannside councillor’s remarks have been rejected by unionist representatives, with the UUP’s Andy Wilson accusing her of “playing the victim in a clever attempt to get publicity running up to an election”.
DUP group leader on the council, Alderman Gregg McKeen dismissed the remarks as “nothing more than opportunistic politicking” and warned Ms Hardy was “damaging the reputation” of Mid and East Antrim Council.
He added: “I feel I have no alternative other than to report Cllr Hardy to the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards.
“I’m stunned by these allegations. It’s not hard to know there is an election coming.
“She has let herself down badly on this, and she has also let down the people of Mid and East Antrim - a borough which is open and inclusive of all.”
Ms Hardy claimed that, while she was speaking at Monday night’s council meeting regarding a DUP motion to celebrate the upcoming centenary of the creation of NI, unionist members “jeered and shouted”.
But DUP councillor and former mayor Audrey Wales said that was not the case, adding: “I would urge people to go online and listen to the audio recording of the meeting and make up their own mind.”
When asked if she had ever witnessed Ms Hardy being subjected to abuse in the chamber, Ms Wales replied: “No more than anyone else. That is politics and from my point of view there was no malice towards her.”
TUV member Ruth Wilson also took issue with Ms Hardy’s comments, stating: “This doesn’t ring true as far as I am concerned, and as a woman I have never been subjected to any kind of misogynist remarks in the council chamber.”
NO EVIDENCE OFFERED TO SUPPORT CLAIM:
The News Letter asked Sinn Fein to cite specific examples where Ms Hardy had been the victim of abusive behaviour from her council colleagues on Mid and East Antrim Council, and whether she had reported it.
But the party did not respond to our request.
Instead, they sent out a statement on behalf of Ms Hardy, where she expressed her “disappointment” at the response from unionist parties to her allegations.
The Bannside member said: “The constant jeering, the snide remarks, the bullying and misogynistic comments should not be tolerated and I had hoped that by speaking out, there would have at least been an acknowledgement that such behaviour is wrong.
“I was to be sorely disappointed because the reaction of the DUP and TUV in particular has been to ridicule my assertions and even report me to the Standards Commissioner for having the audacity to highlight them.
“Those now condemning me are very lucky that they don’t have to deal with the abuse that I face on a regular basis, both inside and outside the council chamber and online.”
Ms Hardy said the alleged abuse would not deter her from representing the people of Mid and East Antrim, but added: “It does have a personal impact on me.”