ELECTION BOMBSHELL

New councillor Iain McAfee could lose seat
New councillor Iain McAfee could lose seat

AN investigation is underway into claims a newly appointed Ballymoney councillor has breached electoral law - and he could lose his seat.

Councillor Iain McAfee is at the centre of the shock development which has rocked local politics.

The allegation is that he breached electoral law by standing for Ballymoney Council whilst being employed by another council.

Cllr McAfee is “devastated” by the developments.

Until the investigation is complete he says he is still a councillor but in the mean time he will not be taking part in any council business and has returned any allowances.

Cllr McAfee swept in to Riada House after the May 5 election and in the process long-standing Ulster Unionist councillor James Simpson lost his seat.

But now just weeks later, and without a full council meeting even under his belt, Cllr McAfee could lose his position.

In a statement, Cllr McAfee told the Times: “The announcement that I may be disqualified to be a Councillor is devastating for myself and the many people who supported me during my campaign and since then.

“I entered the election process genuinely and it is clear that I was elected because people agreed with what I believed in.

“It is however clear that some will be very pleased if I am disqualifed. When I stood I had a vision that change was needed and that Ballymoney Borough Council would become more aware of the views of community and more importantly take on these views. Sadly this vision may not happen unless people radically change their approach.

“As it stands I understand I am still officially a Councillor however until such time as the situation is clarified I will not be taking part in any Council business and I have also returned any allowances.

“I will now have to take stock of my future. I wasn’t naturally attracted to politics and as several have said to me its a dirty business which I am probably best not involved in anyway. Certainly since this has occured my opinion on a number of issues has changed.

“I need to spend time with my family and friends who have been of great support in recent days and I thank them and the people from the communities who have been in contact since to express their support,” said Councillor McAfee’s statement.

Ballymoney Council Chief Executive John Dempsey, who acted as Deputy Returning Officer during the May 5 local government election, said: “The matter is being investigated and while it is under investigation I will not be making any comment.”

The Times has obtained a copy of a letter sent to all the candidates who had stood for election in the Ballymoney Town District Electoral Area.

Dated May 25, the letter, which is signed by Mr Dempsey, said: ‘It has come to my attention that one of the candidates elected to membership of the Ballymoney Borough Council for the Ballymoney Town DEA may have been disqualified for being elected or being a Councillor at the election held on 5th May 2011.

‘The matter has been referred to the appropriate authorities for investigation and the individual concerned has been notified.

‘I do not offer any opinion as to the eligibility of the individual concerned.

‘I am bringing the matter to your attention in the event that you may wish to question the said election by submitting a petition in accordance with S 78-80 of the Electoral Law Act (NI) 1962. An election petition must be presented within 21 days after the day on which the election was held.

‘I refer you to Section 10 “After the Election” of The Electoral Office for Northern Ireland Local Government Elections Guide for Candidates,’ the letter said.

On May 5, Cllr McAfee came second in the count of first preference votes in Ballymoney, securing 347 behind runaway leader Mervyn Storey of the DUP.

Speaking after his election to Ballymoney Council, Councillor McAfee had said: “The whole event has been a great experience and to be elected is the icing on the cake. I cannot thank the electorate and my family enough for their encouragement and support. I stood on a number of issues that local people obviously identified with and commit myself to work tirelessly to achieve them.

“While I effectively canvassed and organised my campaign alone with the support from my family, I had the backing of a number of prominent people from the community/voluntary, statutory and private sectors who shared my concern on a number of issues.

“The fact that over 50% of the electorate in the town did not vote paints a very telling picture. On the doorsteps I found major disillusionment and this was visibly demonstrated by the low turn out.

“In the next few weeks I will be proactively engaging will a wide range of groups and individuals from all sectors, as I did prior to the elections to further judge how best to proceed.”