Council split over possibility of appointing independent member to audit committee

Councillor Amanda Grehen (Alliance Party) and Alderman James Tinsley (DUP).
Councillor Amanda Grehen (Alliance Party) and Alderman James Tinsley (DUP).

A row has erupted over a council decision not to proceed with a process which could have led to the appointment an independent member to the Governance and Audit Committee.

The decision, taken by majority vote at the council’s meeting on Tuesday evening, means Lisburn and Castlereagh is the only local authority in Northern Ireland not to follow NI Audit Office recommendations and have an independent member on its committee.

A proposal to look into the possible appointment of an independent member split the chamber, with Alliance, UUP, SDLP and TUV members in favour, but all DUP representatives voting against.

Following the meeting, Alliance Cllr Amanda Grehen, Chair of the Governance and Audit Committee, accused the DUP of “arrogance” and being “controlling”. But the DUP’s council group leader, Alderman James Tinsley hit back, accusing other parties of mounting “a smear campaign”.

Describing the DUP’s decision to effectively block the appointment of an independent member as “extremely disappointing”, Cllr Grehen said: “Their decision defies logic. All other councils, including those controlled by DUP, have accepted the need and Ernst and Young and the NI Audit Office have indicated that it is a necessity and would help to provide political neutrality and continuity. Yet, once again the DUP arrogantly insist that the level of expertise in Lisburn Castlereagh is so superior that an independent expert, in the very complex issues involved, would add no value to the affairs of the committee.

“This is a very unsatisfactory situation and the council, indeed the controlling DUP, needs to think again.”

Defending the DUP’s position, Alderman Tinsley said: “Residents in our council area can be assured that the DUP is committed to delivering a high standard of governance and making sure that council finances are fully accountable and audited.”

Suggesting that the appointment of a paid independent member would be “overkill”, Alderman Tinsley added: “To give assurance to our ratepayers, the auditing process includes having internal auditors, external auditors and the Local Government Auditor to keep an eye on audit accounts. We also have 40 councillors with a wealth of experience whose job is to scrutinise and give an account of how ratepayers’ money is spent.”