4 November 2020
By Mary Bermingham
Have you ever been to a meeting of your local City or County Council? It is rare or there to be an audience. Usually, most people in the room are paid to be there! Either as an elected member (i.e. Councillor), or an official of the Council (i.e. the Chief Executive or staff taking minutes), or as a Journalist (being paid for their craft). Occasionally members of the public would attend if there was a particular big issue being discussed, but would leave after that agenda item was concluded. But now, a sea change has come, Cork City Council will stream it’s bi-weekly Monday evening meetings. Until now even a person who attended was not even allowed to record audio or take photos, unless ‘standing orders were suspended’ so this is a big change indeed. Will you be watching?
At a meeting of party whips on Monday, councillors agreed to hold next Monday’s ordinary meeting of Cork City Council entirely online due to COVID-19 restrictions (a committee is a subgroup of the Council, which looks at one sector of work e.g. Roads/Transport).
Monday’s meeting will follow the first live-streaming of a committee meeting of Cork City Council in October. That was at the suggestion of Green Party chair of the Climate Action Committee, Cllr Oliver Moran, and approved by councillors for a special meeting of the committee.
Online meetings should continue beyond lockdown, says Cllr
Cllr Moran says he would like at least some meetings to remain online after the pandemic restrictions are lifted:
“Cork City Council has been doing committee business online since the pandemic, but full council meetings had to be in person for legal reasons. Next Monday’s meeting is possible because the law has now been changed. A knock-on effect of that is that the public will be able to watch an ordinary meeting of Cork City Council online for the first time.
“These changes are happening in the context of the pandemic. But like other workers moving online, some members of council may not want to go back to the old way. I think committee meetings should definitely stay online, even after the pandemic has passed. Online meetings are more convenient for councillors with work and family commitments. That can help to reduce barriers to the work of a councillor for people from different backgrounds.
“Like the meeting of the Climate Action Committee last month, it also makes the Council itself more accessible to the public. The feedback on that meeting was really positive. I think it would be good to keep Local Area Committee meetings online and to live stream them too. It helps to dispel the mystery of the work of Council and to bring local decisions closer to people’s own homes.”
Online meetings would make politics more accessible for time poor people
Fellow Green Party councillor, Cllr Colette Finn, said online meetings would help make democracy more accessible for the public and for councillors with commitments in the home:
“This move to more online meetings means that people can attend to council meetings without having to get a babysitter. This means that women in particular will be able to become more familiar with council proceedings. Often people do not see the connection between their quality of life and politics. However, as we have seen from Brexit and Trump’s America, what starts as a small idea can take off in directions that was never intended. Democracy works best when the electorate understand who and what they are voting for.”
“It’s also very important that we make becoming a councillor more accessible to women. Currently, there are just six women on Cork City Council, compared to 25 men, on a council of 31. That’s below even the national average of 24% female representation. Family-friendly operation of council business has long been identified as something to overcome if we are to entice more women to run for elected office.”