Causeway Coast and Glens Councillors spoke of their concerns that Street Trading licences could be handed out to ‘convicted drug dealers or sex offenders’ who may apply for the licences as such convictions ‘can’t be taken into consideration’.
Having received a report from Director, Aidan McPeake, Members of the Environmental Services Committee voted against the recommendation that ‘Council should cease requiring the production of an Access NI Criminal Check as a requirement for any street trading applications’.
DUP Councillor Adrian McQuillan described the situation as ‘totally ridiculous’, and his party colleague Councillor John McAuley said it was ‘ludicrous’ these convictions couldn’t be taken into account.
The Street Trading (NI) Act 2001 regulates the activity of street trading through the granting or renewal of street trading licences. Section 6 of this Act requires Local Authorities to grant a street trading licence unless it has a mandatory reason or a discretionary reason not to do so.
When asked by Ballymoney Councillor Ivor Wallace why this matter had come before the committee, Mr McPeake explained: “We have been asking for this for the last number of years. It was something in the Coleraine legacy council and it followed through into Causeway Coast and Glens requirements.
“With further investigation into it the requirement for needing it is not necessary and it’s a further administration burden.
“There are a lot of areas within council, for example the Lammas Fair, we never ask for any Access NI checks for the stalls there or the markets we hold in Coleraine.”
Responding to the Director, Councillor Wallace said: “Would you not say it’s still useful to get an Access NI criminal check for a street trader. Surely that would show up things like sexual offences, drugs offences etc. Would that not be useful to have that information when someone is making an application?”
Mr McPeake commented: “I can see why you might think that is the case, Councillor Wallace, however, those convictions can’t be taken into consideration as part of the Street Trading application. There’s no ability to use what’s on an Access NI form to refuse an application on that behalf.”
Proposing the application process remains as it is with the Access NI Criminal Check in place, Councillor Wallace said: “I would still be happier to know who exactly we are giving a street trading licence to.
“I think it would be negligent of us not to know if someone had convictions for drugs offences or sex offences and us giving them a licence to go onto a street to trade.”
DUP Councillor John McAuley agreed that it would be ‘beneficial’ adding that “it’s ludicrous we can’t take some of these offences into account”.
Amending the proposal, the Causeway DEA councillor said: “I would be happy to second this in the hope that by asking people to do the Access NI check, especially when it’s of no cost to ourselves, that it will maybe put someone off applying if they are trying to keep an offence under the radar.
“I would actually go a step further and make an amendment that we should be applying this in all instances including the likes of the Lammas Fair so it’s the same across the board.”
Councillor Adrian McQuillan asked the Director, Mr McPeake for clarification on the application regulations.
“If we have someone looking for a street trading pitch outside a school and we did an Access NI check on him and it came back that he was on the sex offenders list, we would still have to give that guy a pitch outside a school?” he said.
When the Director of Environmental Services confirmed that this was indeed the case, Councillor McQuillan added: “That is totally ridiculous, we should have the power to say who gets our street trading licences and who doesn’t. It’s unreal and I think we should be writing to the Minister responsible.”
Members voted unanimously against the recommendation, voting in favour of retaining the Access NI check.