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SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

City Hall accused of 'governing behind closed doors'

QUESTIONS have been raised about the transparency of City Hall’s new structures after the local authority decided to hold the vast majority of its council meetings behind closed doors.

Proposals agreed by party whips mean that the number of full council meetings, which are open to the public and media, will be halved from two a month to just one.

Regular local area meetings to reflect the enlarged city, following last week’s boundary extension, will also be held in private.

Council sources say the new system is being introduced to stop “grandstanding” from certain councillors to the public gallery and to increase productivity.

However, the new system appears to conflict with the policy of Cork County Council, where district meetings for its electoral wards are fully open to the public.

Former county councillor Mary Rose Desmond (FF), who was elected to the city council last month, said holding meetings in private will alienate the public from local government.

“I would be wholly opposed to this governing behind closed doors,” Ms Desmond said.

“I don’t know what anyone would be afraid of. Councillors are entitled to have their view heard by the public and the media because that’s the only opportunity they have. We talk about people being disengaged from politics and the low turnouts to local elections but this will remove people even further from it again. We have to be accountable and answerable,” Ms Desmond added.

Cork City Council director of corporate affairs Paul Moynihan said the new system will be monitored.

“In preparation for the boundary extension, over the past number of months, council considered how the committee structure of council could be reshaped to reflect the larger administrative area,” he said.

“An area-based committee structure was agreed, and reflecting the long-established regime that applied to the functional committees, the proposal was for these meetings to be mainly in committee, with a number of the meetings each year being open to the public.

“The new system will be monitored by the new council in terms of its effectiveness,” he added.

Ex-lord mayor Terry Shannon (FF) said the new structures may change as the new council takes shape and added that he would like to see local area committee meetings held in local community centres rather than City Hall.

“It would be far better from a democracy, transparency and citizens’ participation point of view to have them in public,” he added.

Former county councillor Derry Canty (FG), who will represent Ballincollig in the new city council, said he is not in favour of a “behind closed doors attitude”, while Ken O’Flynn (FF) said he believes all meeting should be open to the public.

However, former Lord Mayor Des Cahill (FG) said he believes there are no issues with transparency.

“The advantage of [private] meetings is that you have more frank and fuller debates than you would in public meetings. They are the engine room of getting work done and to take things further on from where they are when discussed at full council.

“Functional meetings are much more of a group trying to solve a problem, rather than an individual trying to exploit a problem,” he said.

Cork City Council ranked 11th out of 31 local authorities in the Transparency International Ireland (TI) National Integrity Index last year.