Brown Says Transparency in Council Stifled Yet Again.
Alliance Councillor Patrick Brown has voiced his criticism of other parties for failing to back an Alliance motion to investigate and promote ways to improve transparency in Newry Mourne and Down District Council. he council is now in its second term after the re-organisation of councils in 2014 and spans from Saintfield to Slieve Gullion and Leitrim to Ardglass.
At last Thursday’s meeting of the Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, Councillors voted on a report discussing a motion tabled by Councillor Brown which proposed, among other things, video recording full Council meetings and audio recording working groups and other Council-led meetings.
Speaking about the motion Councillor Brown said: “The measures on recording meetings were part of the Alliance Party’s manifesto in the May Council elections, a platform which voters right across Northern Ireland endorsed and were a major part our Local Government campaign. I think this was a missed opportunity for NMD Council to lead the way on transparency.
“At a previous Council meeting, I tabled a motion which would have seen video recording of full council meetings (as is already done in Belfast and Derry councils), uploading online of planning meeting audio recordings, audio recording for the first time of key council working groups and subcommittees, and would have required the Chair to give five days’ notice to Councillors before deferring their motions to a committee.
“Aside from the point about five days’ notice (which was passed) and planning meetings (which is still out for legal opinion), Councillors from the SDLP, DUP and Sinn Fein voted against even costing additional recording for meetings, and added a ridiculous proposal that individual Councillors are limited to just 1 motion a month which appears to be a clear attempt to stifle the work of Independent Councillors and Councillors from smaller parties who will therefore be less able to raise important issues each month in a way that guarantees they are discussed and voted upon.
“It is worth noting that this decision follows immediately after I proposed three important motions at the last Council meeting – the first time any Councillor has done this). Independent Jarlath Tinnelly seconded my proposal and the UUP abstained.”
Cllr Browd added: “This latest decision appears to follow a concerted campaign by the establishment parties to silence the voices and minimise the impact of independent and Alliance Councillors. At the start of this Council term the larger parties voted to exclude us from having any representation on the Party Representatives Forum and the Strategic Projects Working group – and now they are blocking the audio recording of these same meetings!
“They have repeatedly refused to recognise the Alliance/Ind grouping of Councillors, the remit of which has not changed since the last Council term when it was recognised. Alliance and independents were also voted down from having a place on the new Chief Executive interview panel, denying us a say in the appointment of the Chief civil servant in Council. It would appear the larger parties, no doubt spooked but the results of Alliance and independents across the District in May, are now doing whatever they can to make Council a cold house for almost 20% of its elected representatives.
“Sadly in this case the negative headlines write themselves! I suspect that some councillors are clearly not happy with me promoting the forum of Independent and Alliance councillors. There is a democratic deficit existing when the Independent and Alliance representatives can’t function as a forum on an equal basis with the bigger parties. The voters are losing out here.”