Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has threatened to take action against a councillor after he attempted to raise issues of historic sex abuse claims during a Council meeting on Tuesday night.

The tetchy exchange at Enniskillen Townhall saw Community Labour Alternative (CCLA) Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh refer to the sex abuse allegations which have been published in this newspaper for over six months but was interrupted by both the Council Chairwoman Siobhán Currie and acting Chief Executive Robert Gibson.

Councillor O’Cofaigh had said: “We are in a county where not a week goes by that we don’t hear further evidence about historic sex abuse and the failure of authorities to deal with it and we have more than 50 people who have been identified as alleged.”

He added: “This the talk of the entire people of Northern Ireland, what is happening here.”

Interrupting Councillor O’Cofaigh, Mr. Gibson said: “We have taken legal advice that the Council should not be subject to commenting on anything that is subject to an ongoing police investigation and that legal advice has come very strongly. I would advise councillors who go away from that advice, you will not be covered by the council for comments or causing, if you like, a difficulty within that investigation.”

Mr. Gibson said Council “will co-operate with any investigation that references the Council”. He added: “I can assure you that the Council is not aware of anything within its history that is related to any of the investigations but I would like to say under no circumstances should Council get involved in the discussion around this matter.”

Commenting that there are journalists who are living with “threat and intimidation” as a result of investigating these matters, Councillor O’Cofaigh continued: “Councillors who have a democratic mandate are being told by those in authority that we can’t raise these issues. There is no-one here who is going to pervert the course of justice for victims.”

“There are questions for the Council as far as I’m concerned,” added Councillor O’Cofaigh.

In response to Councillor O’Cofaigh’s comments, Mr. Gibson stated: “I would be very careful with that because that is obviously an inference to the members of the Council and to the officers. I would be very careful when you make a suggestion like that, I’ve already warned you about what the position is and I’m not sure that you have not breached that and I reserve the right to take whatever action is necessary as an officer of the Council.”

Independent Councillor John McCluskey attempted to comment but was cut off by Councillor Currie mid-sentence. Interrupting Councillor McCluskey, Councillor Currie said: “Robert here has given two warnings on this and I would just like to add that this is an ongoing live investigation.

She continued: “This isn’t about us in here, this is about the victims. As councillors, unfortunately many of us have dealt with victims of sexual abuse, sadly we know our judicial system when things are discussed in an open forum such as this one, how that can be used against the victim in their own quest for justice.”

Stating that she believes that this stance is supported by the majority of people in the Council Chamber, Councillor Currie continued: “I am not going to speak myself and I trust that the majority in this chamber aren’t going to use these victims in this way. It’s self-cynical and it’s self-serving.”

She added: “The majority of councillors in here feel the same and I urge again caution what people say in here, the victims come first. It’s that simple.” Following Councillor Currie’s speech, the Council Chamber erupted in applause with the majority of councillors clapping.

Again Councillor McCluskey attempted to comment, stating “freedom of the press is the most important thing,” to which he was interrupted by Councillor Currie who shouted: “My concern is completely with the victims, if you want to press on, on your head be it. I believe the majority in this chamber are thinking about the victims, not about getting three inches in the local paper.”

Mr. Gibson added: “Just to say that the legal advice does not stop you as an individual councillor making whichever comments you want but I’d prefer you didn’t do it in the Chamber and if you do, you won’t get any protection from the Council.”

Councillor McCluskey once again highlighted that “freedom of the press at all times is very important.”

He added: “In relation to what we have been reading over the last few months, if it wasn’t for the press I wouldn’t have known so I just say that I think we should congratulate the journalists who have given us this information.”

Mr. Gibson concluded: “I’m not sure that an allegation wasn’t made this evening. I’ll be retracing the comments and I will be investigating whether or not that is bringing the Council into disrepute”.