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A number of councils broadcast their meetings for the public. Alamy Stock Photo
livestreaming

FG councillor taking legal advice as she claims council is 'blocking' broadcasting meetings

A vote taken in 2021 saw Laois County Council approve providing finances for livestreaming its meetings.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 2nd 2023, 6:20 AM

A FINE GAEL councillor in Co Laois is considering taking legal action to force her local council to livestream meetings.

Aisling Moran said there have been attempts to either “slow down” or “outright block” the measure, which is despite it being approved by a council vote almost two years ago.

Laois County Council has contended the vote taken by councillors in June 2021 was about “making provision” for broadcasting meetings rather than streaming them online.

While it said it has “substantially upgraded” its video and audio facilities, it maintains further approval is required from a newly formed sub-committee to allow meetings be shown to the public.

But Moran has said this is another attempt at “resisting the vote taken by the council”, adding that elected councillors “should be able to sit down and talk openly and naturally” about council business similar to other local authorities which broadcast their monthly meetings.

She said allowing the public to view meetings would provide “more transparency and accountability” around planning issues, services and funding overseen by Laois County Council.

“This first came up 19 months ago and nobody was going against it. But there’s been resistance since and some are trying to put into a sub-committee as a way to hold it up or block it.

“From the day I said I’d run for council, I wanted to go in and try for more transparency at the local level along with more accountability. I’ve taken legal advice on this and I will be pursuing it if it continues to be delayed.”

The council told this publication that further work may have to be undertaken, such as a “data privacy assessment”, ahead of any green light for broadcasting meetings.

On this, Moran believes there is a danger of “trying to use GDPR as an excuse”.

“Any member of the public can already watch a meeting from the council gallery so GDPR should not be an issue,” she added.

When contacted, Laois County Council said that if the sub-committee recommends the measure, then it may require amendments to the council’s standing orders on how a meeting is run. This would require further approval from the elected members.

aisling moran fg website Fine Gael councillor Aisling Moran

A small number of councils around the country, including Fingal, Wicklow, Roscommon, Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, broadcast meetings.

Several also trialed it during the pandemic when members could only meet online but ceased the practice when in-person meetings could return.

Moran, who represents the Graiguecullen-Portarlington area, was elected to the council for the first time in 2019, taking a seat long-held by her father John, and is its first openly-LGBT+ member.

But she has warned that there is a danger of not keeping up with broader society.

“There are 19 councillors in Laois and only four under the age of 50, and I’ll be 50 in June.

“That’s not good and it’s not representative. Portlaoise is a fast growing town and we’ve a huge mix of nationalities but I don’t think councils are being representative of our society.

“It can be a tool even used in school to allow kids to see what big issues locally are getting covered in their local county council.”

Cllr Pat Fitzpatrick, who is president of the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) said some councils found “low viewership numbers which did not justify the high costs incurred” and so stopped livestreaming.

He added that many other councils are giving serious consideration to broadcasting their meetings.

But he said “there are a number of serious considerations such as the level of funding required to provide this service and to maintain historical records etc along with potential GDPR issues”.

“While the benefits to livestreaming council meetings are clear, it is also important to note that in-person council meetings remain accountable and transparent as any member of the public/media can currently attend council meetings in person to watch local democracy and decision making take place.”

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