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Kilkenny County Council votes to keep public and media out of policy meetings

The decision to hold these meetings in private is at the discretion of each local authority.
Jun 9th 2019, 12:26 PM 11,601 47

KILKENNY COUNTY COUNCILLORS, during their first meeting, voted this week to exclude members of the public and the media from Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) meetings.

The role of SPCs in councils is to discuss and develop policies relating to the remit of that committee, such as housing, finance or planning. The committees are chaired by council members but representatives from outside bodies and community groups also sit on them.

At the council’s first meeting on Friday evening, Kilkenny councillors were asked to approve standing orders and were told that a new line had been added to the section on these committees. 

The new line states members of the public and representatives from the media are not permitted to attend the meetings. 

Green Party councillor Malcolm Noonan proposed a motion countering this new policy, so it would not be included in rules for the SPCs. His motion was defeated 19 votes to five. 

The decision to hold these meetings in private is at the discretion of each local authority. In Waterford, the meetings are closed, while Dublin City Council streams their SPC meetings online, as it does with council meetings. 

Commenting on the council vote, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Seamus Dooley said it was “an inauspicious start to a new council”.

“Local government should be open and transparent,” he said. 

One of the councillors who voted against the motion, Fine Gael’s John Brennan, told TheJournal.ie that it was “not a case of excluding the media, as such”. 

“The SPCs are a forum for people to come in and discuss issues in relation to that particular committee and there are people from outside bodies on them.

“The way it was explained to us earlier [by the council's Director of Services] is the spirit of it was to allow external members to work in an environment where they’d feel at ease.”

I have no hang-ups about whether the press are there or not and it’s not a case of trying not to disclose issues discussed. It [policy discussed at the meetings] has to go to the council afterwards anyway. 

Labour councillor Tomás Breathnach, who seconded Noonan’s motion and voted in favour of keeping the meetings open, said he has “no difficulty at all with the media being there”. 

He said he did understand the point of view of the councillors who opposed Noonan’s motion that people who were not used to speaking publicly could “feel inhibited at a meeting”. 

“They might feel easier and more free to contribute if the meetings are private.”

However he pointed out that the joint policing committee meetings are covered by the press and he did not see that as an inhibitor for the community representatives who regularly speak at those meetings. 

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Michelle Hennessy

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