BY CHRIS KILPATRICK
THE wife of a former Ballymoney councillor who vacated his seat last month over issues regarding his eligibility for the role is set to replace her husband on the council this week.
Iain McAfee’s partner Roma is believed to be the substitute he nominated to take his seat prior to his resignation and, like her husband, will come in as an Independent, the Times understands.
Mr McAfee declined to comment on the identity of his nominated replacement and it is now up to that individual to formally accept the offer.
The move negates the need for a by-election which appeared to be on the cards following a meeting of Ballymoney Borough Council last week.
At that meeting councillors were told the cost of a by-election could hit council coffers to the tune of up to £25,000.
The other alternative, they heard, was for members to nominate an individual for the vacant seat.
Back in May Mr McAfee was elected as an Independent in the Ballymoney Town Centre electoral area having received 347 first preference votes but it emerged a complaint had been received by the council about his status.
Under electoral law anyone who gets paid to work in connection with a council in Northern Ireland cannot stand as a councillor.
Mr McAfee was working as a Health Inequalities Officer for the Carrickfergus and Larne areas funded by the Public Health Agency and was based with Ballymena Borough Council.
A probe was launched and police were called in. The matter is still being considered by both the police and the Public Prosecution Service.
As a councillor, Mr McAfee could nominate a replacement for his seat should he vacate it during his term.
This had to be done before he stood down from the post.
Mr McAfee tendered his resignation to Ballymoney council headquarters on Monday 26 September.
He did this after he put forward a replacement to the Chief Electoral Officer Graham Shields.
On Monday of last week, Ballymoney councillors were told that this letter was not believed to have been received by the Chief Electoral Officer prior to Mr McAfee resigning his position.
On Thursday afternoon Mr McAfee showed this paper a recorded delivery slip showing he sent correspondence to the office of the Chief Electoral Officer on September 14, which was signed as having been received the following day.
Mr McAfee says the receipt proves he went down the right channels to have a replacement installed, negating the need for the costly by-election.
“On Monday evening Ballymoney Borough councillors voted to hold a by-election in November after being informed that I had not forwarded a name of a possible replacement,” Mr McAfee said in a statement to the Times.
“All I can say is that this situation has not changed and what I said in my recent press statement when I resigned by seat is factual.
“As I have taken legal advice and all information is in the hands of my solicitor, I cannot say too much at this time however this dubious incident
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has brought further strain and stress onto myself and my family.
“I have made every attempt to avoid a by-election yet my integrity continues to be questioned particularly by councillor Finlay who seemed very keen to apportion blame.
“It will be interesting to hear from councillor Finlay as I have evidence to prove that I did take the necessary steps to avoid a by-election.”
On Friday the office of the Chief Electoral Officer confirmed the nomination had indeed been received and the path cleared for the appointment.
A statement from the Chief Electoral Officer said: “Mr McAfee has given me clear evidence that a substitute’s list was properly submitted.
“I can confirm that action is now being taken to appoint a nominated substitute to fill the vacancy created by Mr McAfee’s resignation.
“A by-election will not therefore be necessary, subject to the substitute nominated by Mr McAfee agreeing to accept the position.”
When contacted by the Times following the release of the Chief Electoral Officer’s statement Mr McAfee said he did not wish to make any further comment at this stage.