CITY Hall management has been accused of launching an “outrageous power grab” by the Green Party, who said democracy in Cork City Council is heading towards a “very uneasy place”.
The council has been developing new structures since May’s local elections which mean councillors formally interact less with the council and its chief executive, Ann Doherty.
This has led to questions around the transparency of the local authority’s work and the ability of the public to hold the council executive to account.
The issues reached boiling point this week at a party whips meeting where councillors were informed that motions and questions from councillors to council management will now only be accepted once a month at full council meetings.
Questions to the chief executive were not allowed at a meeting of the council this week, as a full meeting had already taken place in early September.
Green Party councillor Oliver Moran has suggested that democracy at City Hall is being eroded.
“Democracy in the city council is on a very unsettling trajectory right now,” he said.
“The effect is to reduce the ability of councillors, and the public we represent, to hold the executive to account. The executive describes this as wanting to ‘reduce the workload’ of councillors. In reality, it’s an outrageous power grab.
“We are already starting off from a position of very weak local government in Ireland. In the transition between council terms, the executive has now manoeuvred councillors so that council meetings, where the executive can be held to account, are pared down to the bare minimum of one a month. The public and media are excluded from the new Local Area Committee meetings and access to minutes are restricted.”
The new City Hall meeting structures conflict with the policy of Cork County Council, where district meetings for its electoral wards are fully open to the public and two full council meetings are held per month.
However, the council’s director of corporate affairs, Paul Moynihan, refuted the Green’s claims and said all council political structures and working arrangements remain “under review”.
“An additional Cork City Council meeting was held [on September 30], to deal with four specific agenda items that were time-sensitive. The arrangements for this meeting were discussed by elected members in July,” said Mr Moynihan.
“The executive of Cork City Council did not refuse to accept questions or motions submitted by councillors. These questions and motions have been referred to the next meeting of Cork City Council.”
A Green Party proposal to increase the local property tax last month was refused a debate and councillors voted to retain the current rate without hearing the case for a rise.