Wells backs judgement to give Brown six-month ban

Wells backs judgement to give Brown six-month ban

15 August 2018

THE High Court’s decision to uphold a six-month council ban on Rowallane Alliance councillor Patrick Brown for a drink driving conviction has been welcomed by South Down MLA Jim Wells.

The DUP man said the ruling sends out a very clear message that drink driving is an extremely serious offence “which society cannot tolerate”, arguing the court’s decision raises questions about the position of both Mr Brown and his party on the issue.

The Assemblyman has called on Cllr Brown to resign his seat but the Alliance man says he has no intention of doing so.

Mr Wells said when two DUP councillors were charged with drink driving offences, both immediately made it public that this had happened, with one resigning his seat and the other suspended from the party.

Mr Wells said the stance adopted by Mr Brown “could not have been more different,” claiming that while the Alliance Party’s leadership was informed of the Rowallane councillor’s conviction, “an attempt was made by both to keep the matter secret”. He said what happened only came to light many months later in an article in a Belfast newspaper.

Mr Wells argued that had the media not uncovered Mr Brown’s conviction, ratepayers in Newry, Mourne and Down would never have known about the incident.

“When the cat was out of the bag as it were, the Alliance Party suddenly announced that Patrick Brown had been disciplined, but they refused to reveal what his punishment was,” the DUP man continued.

“The public has a right to know just how seriously or otherwise the Alliance Party considers drink driving to be. It is now very clear that whatever Cllr Brown’s punishment was, it is at the very low end of the scale. The sanctimonious Alliance Party is quick to lecture others on the need to respect the law, but this incident undermines its stance on such a serious issue.”

Mr Wells suggested the public will want to know who funded Cllr Brown’s court appeal against his six-month suspension. He said: “Did he pay the high legal costs himself, did he receive legal aid or did his party fund his appeal?

“If the Alliance Party funded his costs either directly or in kind, then its stance on drink driving will ring very hollow indeed. The public will want to know if the Alliance Party will ratify the selection of a convicted drink driver as its candidate in the forthcoming local government elections? 

“The de-selection of Patrick Brown would send out a very clear message that such behaviour will not be tolerated. I think he should do the honourable thing and resign his seat on Newry, Mourne and Down Council.”

Mr Brown said the DUP man’s “obsession” with him and his recent court case was almost as troubling as his “frequent and bigoted musings” on the LGBT community. He said Mr Wells no longer spoke with the authority of the party whip.

“I make no excuse for my stupidity in getting on a motorcycle after having too many drinks in March last year and have apologised profusely for this,” Mr Brown said.

“The matter has been dealt with by the courts, resulting in a nine month driving ban, a three month suspension from all party activity and the Local Government Ombudsman imposing a six month suspension from local council activity.

“It will be for the public to decide whether that is punishment enough, but I am content that at no stage did this foolish decision affect my role as an elected representative or my commitment to deliver for my constituents.”

Mr Brown suggested Mr Wells “is clearly taking advantage of the situation to call for his pound of flesh” because of the consistent criticism the Alliance man has levelled against the Assemblyman and his party in his role as an elected representative. 

He added: “I would encourage Jim to first look within his own party where there are also representatives convicted of drink driving who continue to fulfil their role and perhaps he would reflect on the hypocrisy of his statement and withdraw it.”

A spokesperson for the Alliance Party said it noted the Commissioner’s judgement and that “careful consideration” will be given to the decision, adding: “It would be inappropriate to comment further in the interim. Alliance disciplinary proceedings are an internal matter and confidential.”