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Lack of live coverage of Council meetings having ‘detrimental impact’ on public confidence

Newry Town Hall

A councillor is pushing a local government authority to have ‘increased transparency and accountability’ when it comes to council meetings.

Alliance councillor, Patrick Brown, said he would introduce a motion next month aimed at getting video of the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council meetings live-streamed or uploaded online.

Local authorities across Northern Ireland adjusted like most organisations during lockdown by moving their gatherings onto apps like Zoom.

Legislation from the Department for Communities received royal assent in September allowing for the model to continue beyond September 2021.

However, Cllr Brown said the council was only one of two in Northern Ireland that didn’t offer live streams or video recordings of its full council meetings.

The Rowallane councillor said it was having a “detrimental impact” on public confidence and for “best value for ratepayers” the process needed to be implemented immediately.

“When I ran for re-election, it was on an Alliance Party manifesto dedicated to increasing transparency in local government,” Cllr Brown said.

“On multiple occasions, attempts by Alliance councillors in our District to increase transparency have been voted down by the establishment parties of Council.

“This has included calls for the audio recording of working groups and project boards, and full audio recording of the planning committee.”

He added: “Now, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated restrictions, we have all had to adapt to increased use of technology and video in our day to day lives; be it for work meetings, healthcare appointments, or even catching up with loved ones.

“I feel strongly that Council should be open to embracing technological change and become more progressive and proactive in its approach to engaging with ratepayers.

“In periods of uncertainty, the need to provide accessible, online means of public engagement with Council is more important than ever.

“Livestreams and video recordings of meetings can play a vital role in achieving this.

“In comparison to other councils, [Newry, Mourne and Down] Council is very much an outlier when it comes to transparency and public availability of its council meetings.

“Constituents across [the district] should be able to see how their elected representatives are operating, as it allows for increased accountability.

“I hope my Council colleagues will see this as an opportunity to be more open with our community and support this motion.”

The next full council meeting is scheduled to take place on January 10.

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