East Cork Municipality Defend Use Of Behind Closed Door Meetings

By Seamus Whelehan


Sinn Fein Cllr Danielle Twomey who has been campaigning to make local government more open and transparent has lost a vote to end behind closed door meetings.
The East Cork Municipality say they will continue to have in committee -closed door meetings, away from media and public scrutiny, but have promised better dialogue with business and community groups.
The representatives voted unanimously on Monday 3 July to continue what are known as in camera meetings, where nobody other than elected officials and senior public servants are allowed to attend.
Senior Executive Officer Sean O’Callaghan said the use of in camera meetings is not unusual.
He said they are a reserved function of Council “used to seek information from [Councillors] to form an opinion of policy.”
Last year Cllr Michael Hegarty called for meetings to be held in camera after a very public debate between Midleton and Youghal Cllrs over the allocation of a Town Development Fund.
The €120,000 discretional grant is designed to enhance the economic development of both Midleton and Youghal town centres, however the lions share has gone to Youghal for the past 3 years.
Cllr Danielle Twomey had requested an end to the practice as Cllrs were not seen by members of the public “as being open and transparent”.
The Sinn Fein Cllr had claimed the borough was wrong to hold a series of in Camera meetings to discuss, budgets, the Town Development Fund and Village Enhancement schemes.
The Midleton based Cllr had also called for more input from business associations and Chambers of Commerce when decisions were being made regarding the Town Development Fund, as well as input from community groups regarding the Village Enhancement scheme.
The local government act 2001 states the public and media can be excluded from meetings when issues of a “special nature” are being discussed.
However, Cllr Twomey claimed the legislation was too ambiguous leaving the rule open to misuse.
Fine Gael Cllr Michael Hegarty said he stood over his decision to hold meetings in secret and rejected Cllr. Twomey’s motion completely.
He said “It is important we have some in committee meetings, its part of the process. The Town Development Fund does not provide for submissions for community groups.”
However, Cllr Susan McCarthy who backed Cllr Twomey said she agreed with the essence of the motion, though, she also felt the need to retain the use of closed door meetings.
The Fine Gael Cllr said due to the “problematic nature” of the division of the Town Development Fund over the past number of years, she was recommending an allowance for public submissions should be made.
She said by agreeing such a process “it would make it fair for groups who felt they are not being heard [by Council].”
While Municipality Chairwoman Mary Linehan Foley Said there was nothing untoward as to how funding was distributed.
“In Committee sounds like we are all meeting in secret, we are not. We meet 20 minutes before our meeting and tell the public what is decided.”
Cllr Noel Collins said he had no issue with closed door meetings as he liked to get a briefing before a debate.
Senior Executive Officer Sean O’Callaghan, said “There are groups in Cobh who have traditionally worked through [Councillors] to bring applications for funding through the Town Development Fund.”
It was agreed from December a similar process would be adopted by the East Cork Municipality.



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