SINN Fein has demanded that unionists in Coleraine who voted to exclude party councillor Billy Leonard from the mayor’s Christmas party pay for a legal action challenging the snub.

Timothy Deans, DUP mayor of the Co Derry town, has formally apologised to Mr Leonard for excluding him from the annual function paid for by ratepayers.

Each councillor is traditionally entitled to invite people to the mayor’s party who have assisted the community during the previous year.

The apology came just before a judicial review of the decision – sought by Mr Leonard – was due to be heard at Belfast High Court.

Mr Leonard instigated proceedings against Mr Deans and the borough council under equality legislation.

Withdrawing the case, Mr Leonard’s solicitors Madden and Finucane claimed Mr Deans’s actions had shown a “casual disregard” for Coleraine ratepayers.

A spokesman claimed they were also in breach of a wide range of equality and human rights legislation.

“It is regrettable that Billy Leonard has been forced to go to court to seek to protect his rights in relation to equality issues first rehearsed before the courts in relation to discriminatory actions by unionist councillors against nationalists in Belfast City Council almost 20 years ago,” the spokesman said.

Mr Leonard described the mayor’s apology as fitting but said it was more important that Mr Deans had been shown to be acting against the law.

“Councillor Deans attempted to pursue DUP policy at a function paid for by the ratepayers. He has learned he cannot exclude republicans on the basis of equality and it is important that we did this,” he said.

Mr Leonard said under the normal course, he would have invited up to eight people from a republican background to the function who have been active in community life.

He also said his party had already been in touch with the local government auditor over the case.

Mr Leonard said Sinn Fein had asked the auditor to pursue seven unionist councillors in Coleraine who voted against a motion demanding that republicans be included from such functions.

He said the six DUP and one Ulster Unionist councillor who voted against the proposal should also be asked to pay the legal costs of the case.