A new mandatory code of conduct for councillors has been passed by the Assembly.
It forms part of an ethical standards framework being introduced through the local government reform programme, and provides for openness and accountability of councillors’ actions.
With the exception of a section on planning, the code came into force on Friday.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “Local government reform is all about bringing power closer to citizens. In doing so we have ensured that the people holding the power and the processes they use to deliver it are as open, transparent and as accountable as possible.
“The code sets out the rules of general conduct and behaviour expected of councillors. It covers issues relating to the registration, disclosure and declaration of interests, and rules in respect of lobbying and decision making.
“Councillors put themselves forward as leaders of the community and it is right that the public should expect them to demonstrate high standards of behaviour. This moves us to a system with robust mechanisms for investigating and adjudicating on complaints, with a range of sanctions should a councillor be in breach of the code.”
He added: “This is not a local government system of which people should be nervous. As our councillors gain new powers and responsibilities, it is simply a system that will encourage openness, transparency and public trust.”
The code applies to councillors of the current 26 councils as well as to those elected to the 11 new councils last week.
The section which deals with planning matters will be introduced in April 2015, when planning functions transfer to councils.
Any allegations of a breach of the code will be referred to the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints.
If a councillor is found to be in breach of the code, a range of sanctions can be applied depending on the seriousness of the case. These include:
· no further action to be taken;
· partial suspension (eg from a particular committee or for a particular time period);
· suspension; and