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An independent review of the governance of the Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme has been launched by the Chief Executive of Newry, Mourne and Down Council citing 'legal opinion'. It will involve Councillors being interviewed by internal auditors ASM.

The proposed location for the new Newry Civic Centre/ council offices. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The proposed location for the new Newry Civic Centre/ council offices. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

The announcement was made at last night's monthly Council meeting by CEO Marie Ward just before SP&R Minutes were up for ratification.

The Chief Executive also banned discussion at Council meetings by Councillors about the Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme until after the investigation has been concluded. Audio available to the public on the Council's website of last months SP&R meeting has also been edited with several sections removed.

Councillor Patrick Brown and Councillor Jarlath Tinnelly had proposed a motion based around the understanding of Councillor's on who had asked for confidentiality in regards to discussions between Council and Newry Parish in relation to the Newry Civic Centre part of the City Centre Regeneration, ie the Parish or Council Officers. In the event the motion didn't carry anyway but any reference to this discussion has now been removed from the audio.

It is on record that Newry Cathedral Parish doesn't support the present proposed location of the Civic Centre due mainly to loss of car parking.

As a result when ratification consideration came round at last nights meeting, of the SPR Minutes from 17th of June, the Agenda item SPR/97/2021 on Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme Board meeting 13/4/21 and Programme Board Workshop 4/5/21  wasn't allowed to be discussed.

The Council Chairperson Cllr Cathy Mason put the SP&R minutes up for ratification excluding SPR/97/2021 Newry City Centre Regeneration Board and the minutes were passed.

Cllr Mason had announced "Okay so just before we move on to item number seven, I'm going to ask the Chief Executive Marie to come in."

When the Chief Executive joined the conversation she said "Just before we go through the minutes of SP&R meeting, I just want to say that further to the meeting of the 17th of June this year, when I joined to provide advice in relation to proposal put by Councillor Brown and seconded by Councillor Tinnelly in regards to communication between Council officers and representatives of the Cathedral. I've taken legal advice in the interests and the protection of the Council and indeed Councillors. I will provide that legal opinion in closed session so Chair I would appreciate if you could seek a proposer and seconder to go into closed session, as this item is deemed to be restricted by virtue of paragraph five part one of schedule six, information in relation to which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings."

An artists impression of the proposed Civic Centre/ Council offices at Newry Cathedral.

The full Council went into Committee with press and public excluded and the Council CEO  read a statement afterwards saying "In closed session I briefed members on legal opinion in relation to SPR/97/2021 and further to that briefing I can advise that on receipt of the legal opinion I have removed the element of the meeting from the public record and we will not be discussing it further. I would also like to advise members that at today's audit committee, an independent review of the governance of Newry City Centre, Regeneration Programme was agreed, and this will involve interviews with councillors and ASM our internal auditors will be in contact with you to arrange same. We will therefore not be discussing any matters relating to the Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme at tonight's council meeting, or any subsequent committee meetings, until such time as the investigation is concluded to the satisfaction of the Audit Committee. I would thank Councillors in advance for respecting the process that I have put in place.

What comes next is not known but it has the potential to delay the regeneration programme.

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