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Councillor says he may be left with little choice but pursue legal action over right to speak at meetings

Craigavon Council Chamber

A Cusher public representative has warned councillors may be left with little choice but to pursue legal action should they be refused the right to speak on matters brought forward for debate.

The threat was made by independent Councillor Paul Berry during January’s meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, following the ratification of the minutes of January’s meeting of the council’s economic development and regeneration committee.

The committee minutes show how Alderman Sydney Anderson had sought to speak on a request to extend Sunday trading hours for larger retailers.

However, the Chair of the committee, Councillor Brian Pope, did not let him enter the debate as the committee had reached an agreement and “he had moved the matter to a conclusion”.

Speaking at January’s council meeting, Councillor Berry revealed he had also requested to speak on the matter on the night.

“When a councillor asks to speak they raise their hand and wait to be called,” said Councillor Berry. “Either this procedure is followed or we will have to go down the legal route.”

“I was at that committee meeting and had my hand up to speak. I noticed that the Chair was not going to bring me in so I took my hand down and thought it best I left what I had to say about that decision to this forum.

“As things stand, I just get a sense he [Councillor Pope] is looking to rush the meetings. In a democracy every representative should have the right to speak on any given issue, should they so wish.

“You can’t chair a meeting and not allow members to speak on the issue while at the same time taking a proposal on the matter.

“I would remind the directors to have a conversation with the Chair to ensure this does not happen again or it will only be going one route.”

Alderman Anderson’s party colleague, Councillor Darryn Caubsy, who does not sit on the committee in question, said he was “concerned” by what the minutes reveal.

“With the minutes now ratified, I read the comments made by my colleague Alderman Anderson about his attempts to speak on the matter and the Chair’s explanation that he had moved the matter to a conclusion and I have to say, I am concerned,” said Councillor Causby.

“In all my years on the council we have never, to my knowledge, had a situation where the Chair has refused to take a speaker, who was yet to speak on the matter, because they had decided they were moving on.

“It is unfortunate it has happened in this instance. Given the fact he had not yet spoken on the matter, he should be entitled to speak for the first time.

“The standing orders state that members should not speak more than twice on any issue.

“We have legal opinion from the council’s solicitor that we have to give due care and consideration to the European Convention on Human Rights which includes an article on freedom of expression.”

Councillor Causby then called on council officers to help advise committee Chairs on the correct procedure to ensure this does not happen again.

“We would like to see officers, where possible, giving guidance to Chairs and provide the appropriate levels of support.

“People co-hosting the meetings should ensure things are run appropriately.

“In my years of experience, including my time as Lord Mayor, this issue has never arisen and it is unfortunate it has now.”

When asked by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Kevin Savage, if he would like to respond, Councillor Brian Pope said he was happy to note the comments.

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