Cork City Council criticised for cutting the number of meetings that will be open to the public

Cork City Council criticised for cutting the number of meetings that will be open to the public
District meetings in Cork county are open to the public but such meetings in the city will be held in private. Picture Dan Linehan

CONCERNS are growing about reduced levels of public access to City Hall meetings where decisions are made.

The Echo revealed that the majority of newly introduced local area committee meetings will be held behind closed doors, while the number of full council meetings will be reduced to once a month - from twice a month previously.

A small number of the local area meetings - where specific issues are up for discussion - will be made open to the public but these will have to be agreed by council members and it is unclear how often these will take place.

The new structures were agreed by party whips of the council and newly elected councillors and councillors transferring from the city were unaware of the curtailed public access before taking their seats.

Local area committee meetings are being introduced to replace housing, planning, tourism, roads and finance functional directorate meetings for councillors in the five electoral wards.

Sources have told the Echo that political groupings within the council have been reconsidering their position on the new structures in the last few days.

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien, a former city councillor, said he does not see why City Hall cannot give full public access to meetings where decisions are made that affect them.

“I’d always be in favour of meetings where decisions are taken around the city itself to be open to the public,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Obviously, certain committee meetings need to be held in private but any meeting where there is a decision-making process, I would be in favour of having them in public. The public vote in their councillors and they have a right to know what way they are voting, including at local area meetings.

“There will be a lot of teething problems associated with the boundary extension and these are issues for local Government to sort out.

“Any meeting where a decision is being made on the direction of the city or a local community, I always believe they should be open to members of that community. I’m opposed to behind doors, closed meetings.

“In some cases that has to happen for certain committees such as finance or maybe the housing committee when they are discussing policy but there’s a difference between having a meeting behind closed doors to just discuss an issue. Any votes on a particular issue should be held in public,” Mr O’Brien added.

Councillor Ted Tynan of the Workers’ Party said the new City Hall structures are “disturbing” and “deeply undemocratic”.

Mr Tynan said that the decision undermines the already low level of trust in the elected council and “flies in the face” of openness and transparency.

He said: “The party whips system was supposedly set up to ensure the smooth running of the City Council. Instead, it has become a secret cabal which sets the agenda of the elected council and strongly influences policy on major issues. I will be interesting to know if all those who just a fortnight or so ago were proclaiming their democratic virtues and modernity will support it or stand behind those principles,” he added.

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

Former Lord Mayor Des Cahill (FG) said he believes there are no issues with transparency and claims the public will be better served by more productive meetings with more frank and full discussions.

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