Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Strabane District Council's plan to hold meetings in private is ditched

Our story last month
Our story last month

Strabane District Council has abandoned proposals to make its committee meetings private following a public backlash.

The council has been forced to change tack and has agreed to scrap the idea altogether.

Officers in Strabane had been holding preliminary talks with elected representatives on this and a range of other ideas for improving "transparency" over recent months.

Details of what was being discussed were revealed by the Belfast Telegraph and public anger grew after various councillors subsequently voiced support for the ban on the press and public at committee meetings.

Those in favour claimed it would allow councillors to speak freely, and would result in more confidential information being brought out into the public arena.

They said that this would be done at the monthly meeting of the full council – the only meeting which the press and public would be allowed into.

The citizens of the district and the National Union of Journalists expressed outrage at the move.

Community leaders had raised concerns that ratepayers would be denied their right to see how decisions are reached.

NUJ officials who represent journalists across the UK, Ireland and abroad, further warned that the proposals were "a direct attack on democracy and an attack on press freedom".

The NUJ had been preparing to send a delegation to the monthly meeting of the council, set to take place on Monday night.

The interim chief executive of the local authority, Daniel McSorley, has now written to the union body saying there is no need for them to show up.

In his letter, he stated: "I can confirm that Strabane District Council is not proposing to close committee meetings to the public and the press.

"As part of our normal business proposals, a proposal was developed by officers which regretfully was released before it was fully considered as an option.

"This option was not presented to council nor was it considered at committee."

He added: "Council has listened to the feedback ... and wishes to respond appropriately.

"The public and the press remain welcome, as they have always been, to attend committees of Strabane District Council."

Strabane community worker Andy Gallagher previously said that local people were totally stunned by the original idea.

Yesterday, he said: "This will now ease people's minds that everything is going to remain open and transparent."

Strabane journalist Conor Sharkey also welcomed the confirmation yesterday.

He said: "I think it's a good result for the ratepayers and for democracy.

"I would commend Strabane District Council for taking on board the concerns of the NUJ, the local press and public."

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