Clare County Council must adhere to procedures and safeguards that are in place to make sure it operates openly. That’s the view of independent Gerry Flynn, who will introduce a motion to that effect at the council’s adjourned April meeting.
His motion states, “In view of the increased demand by some senior officials for in-committee meetings at County Council and Municipal District Meetings under the heading of briefings and failure to adhere to Standing Orders, I am calling on this practice to cease in the interest of accountability, transparency and the public interest.”
The motion from Councillor Flynn, who is chairman of the council’s Standing Orders Subcommittee, said the required procedures for the council to meet in committee, when required, are already in place and should be complied with.
“Standing Orders under section 61 states quite clearly and in fact facilitates the holding of a meeting in committee or part of a particular meeting when at least one half of the total number of elected members vote in favour of excluding the public and media in relation to the special nature of the meeting or of an item of business to be or about to be considered for other special reasons.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Councillor Flynn said it was important that the public and the media were dealt with properly.
“There’s a clear policy on how we deal with the presence of media and the public. Basically what I’m saying is that any item of public importance and public interest needs to be discussed in a public forum. We can’t have a situation where briefings are called to discuss items that should be discussed at a public forum.”
He said he accepted some meetings would not be open to the public, but he feels there must be reasonable transparency. “I want it to be consistent. For matters to be of public interest to be discussed openly, which haven’t got the sensitivity of matters that need to be discussed behind closed doors. “It’s not that I’m looking for a total opening up of every meeting, that the media and the public have to be present at every meeting, I’m not saying that at all.” He said the media provided “a vital link” between the activities of the county council and the public.
A report prepared by Ann Reynolds of the council’s Corporate Service Section in response to Councillor Flynn’s motion states, “The issue being raised has been brought to the attention of all area co-ordinators and meetings administrators for each municipal district. There is full commitment to adherence to Standing Order 61 in the administration of Council meetings.”
It also states that the holding of a briefing for members does not equate to a statutory meeting.
By Owen Ryan