“Any restrictions on media is a wrong and retrograde step.”
So says a local councillor after representatives on Kilkenny County Council voted at their AGM yesterday to ban media and the public from attending certain meetings.
Up to now, both had been allowed to sit in on Strategic Policy Committee meetings where proposals are drafted for things like housing, climate action, tourism, etc.
These proposals are then brought forward to the monthly council meetings for full approval.
Five councillors voted against the ban yesterday, with 19 voting in favour.
Green Party Councillor Malcolm Noonan was one of those who said it shouldn’t be introduced:
“I see no reason for it. In the past we would’ve always allowed the media and the public into the Strategic Policy Committee meetings.
“They inform members of the public and the media of the workings of the council and how policies are formulated – very informative and very useful meetings.
“So I saw no reason to include a line in the Standing Orders banning them.
“Any restrictions on media, in my view, is a wrong and retrograde step.”
However, Director of Services in the council, Tim Butler says it’s to make sure the committee members feel they can speak openly:
“At the SPC stage policy is being developed and you have non-[elected] members there who mightn’t be used to developing policy or might feel inhibited if they’re going to say something and there’s members of the public or anything at it.
“The legislation itself is silent on it, so it’s up to local authorities to decide whether media or the public should be allowed in to them.
“We feel that it’s more appropriate that the public and media are involved in it when it goes to public consultation, when you have a draft policy.”
When asked whether the suggestion of a ban had come about as a result of an issue arising, Mr Butler said, “No, there were no issues and we had no issues ourselves.”
Councillor Noonan also said he’s never found that media or public presence was a hindrance to the work of these SPC’s.
However, Fine Gael Councillor and local party whip, Mary Hilda Cavanagh says she thinks it is the right decision for the reason Mr Butler outlined.
A statement on behalf of KCLR, as one of the leading local media outlets, says the organisation is concerned at the decision.
It says the ban is a retrograde step and sets worrying precedents.
A meeting has now been requested with the chairman of Kilkenny County Council, Peter Chap Cleere on the matter.