ENNIS Joint Policing Committee meetings are of greater benefit without the media present, according to a senior official with Ennis Town Council.
The Ennis Joint Policing Committee meetings were set up about two years ago to provide a forum where a local authority and the senior garda officers responsible for the policing of Ennis, with the participation of Oireachtas members and community interests, can consult, discuss and make recommendations on matters affecting the policing of the area.
A decision is made at the start of each year whether the committee will meet in committee – without the presence of the media, and to date, it has been determined by the Ennis Joint Policing Committee to exclude the media from all but one of their meetings each year.
Chairman of the committee, Councillor Paul O’Shea, is not happy that the media are excluded from the meetings and feels that as “the eyes of the public” the media should be there.
“I raised the matter of the media being excluded from the meetings at the first Joint Policing Committee meeting and a vote was taken on it. A large majority voted against the media being present. I didn’t have a vote as chairman of the committee,” Councillor O’Shea said.
However, Ennis Town Council official Niall O’Keeffe said that there had never been a vote on the matter.
Councillor O’Shea raised the matter at the last Joint Policing Committee meeting in June and was told that it could be put on the agenda for the next meeting, which is at the end of September.
“I have researched this and other JPCs have their meetings with the media present, including Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. My point about this is that there’s nothing to hide. The public need to be aware of issues. If the gardaí want to discuss procedural matters or more sensitive matters, the media could be excluded from these parts of meetings. I’m going to push this matter because it is in the public interest,” the councillor commented.
Mr O’Keeffe said that the issue of media attending the JPC meetings is discussed at the first meeting of each year, when the schedule of meetings for the coming year is being set out. “The thrust of a JPC meeting is not like a council meeting. Things are done by consensus and not generally by votes. It has been decided to have the meetings without the presence of the media due to the litigious situation where people can quite easily end up in difficulties over things they say. With the media present, discussions would have to be more discrete, as subsequent legal actions could otherwise be prejudiced. The functioning of the meetings is better without the media present,” he added.
“The chairperson is a single voice on the committee. This committee is in its infancy. A lot of discussion has taken place in relation to individual matters, which have arisen in Ennis and these discussions could not have taken place with the media present,” he added.
Mr O’Keeffe added that the purpose of the JPC meetings is to discuss issues of concern regarding community policing and other topics and they are not information meetings. “It’s simply a decision of the committee not to have the media at the meetings. A greater benefit is got from the meeting with the media absent,” he commented.
He added that the guidelines set out by the Department of Justice for the JPC meetings do not exclude the attendance of the media and that it is a decision that is made at local level.
The guidelines for the committees state that policing society is best achieved through a partnership process involving the Garda Síochána and the democratically elected representatives of the communities which the Garda Síochána serves and with the participation of the community and voluntary sector.
They also state that where a committee is of the opinion that the absence of members of the public and representatives of the media from the whole or part of a particular meeting is in exceptional circumstances desirable because of the special nature of the meeting, or of an item of business to be considered at the meeting, or for other special reasons, the committee may decide to meet in committee. Also, meetings to plan future business, including public meetings, will be held in committee.
Councillor O’Shea also feels that there needs to be more community representation on the JPC. Currently, the committee is made up of six councillors, three Oireachtas members, three senior gardaí, three council officials and two RAPID representatives. The chairman says that while RAPID represents some parts of Ennis, it does not cover the entire town and that a group such as Ennis Community Forum and other community organisations should also be represented.
Superintendent Peter Duff, the new superintendent in the Ennis area, said that while he has not yet had the opportunity to go to a JPC meeting in Clare, he is aware that in other areas where he attended the meetings, the media were not present. “As far as I’m aware, the media simply did not look to go to the meetings, so it wasn’t an issue,” he commented.
He added that ongoing operational policing matters are discussed at the meetings, which could not be discussed if the media were present.