Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Tired of X Factor? Now you can watch Belfast council meetings live on the web...

Belfast is set to spend thousands of pounds to become the first council in Northern Ireland to film its meetings.

Webcams go on trial in the chamber at City Hall during November. If approved by all councillors, they go live in December.

It is understood the cameras, which will be leased for an estimated £18,000 annually, would stream the monthly meetings over the internet via the city council website.

DUP Robin Newton said: “This was a discussion that was before the last term of the council and it may now come to fruition.

“The council is intent on being as open and transparent, taking a constructive view so that the ratepayer whether they are business community or householders can see how their money is being spent.

“They will be able to see the stance individual councillors and groups will take on issues. The ratepayer will be well informed.”

Last year members agreed in principle to the live streaming of meetings. Members approved a recommendation to adopt a system similar to the one used in Dublin City Council which provides live streaming of high-quality video feed, providing viewers with on-screen information, including details of the meeting agenda and of individual speakers, and will archive the footage.

The system is to be leased from a specialist company which would be responsible for updating the equipment and to provide maintenance when appropriate.

Mr Newton said he did not believe that councillors would ‘play to the camera’ in a bid to impress constituents. “We are moving in the way of other democratic organisations,” he said. “Westminster and the Assembly have gone that way. Wales has gone that way and Scotland is also moving in that direction. The city council is embracing a new era of communication.

“Playing to the camera is not the experience that we have had in Westminster or at the local Assembly so I see no reason why it should be the case in the council chamber.”

Cameras have been running in the Assembly since it was restored in 2006. Plenary sessions and committee meetings can be viewed as they happen or at a later date.

Sinn Fein’s Mairtin O Muilleoir said: “I think council transparency is always a good idea. We won’t pre-empt the November trial but let’s try and agree the best way forward for the council. These are positive steps towards modernising the council.

“I have no idea if people will be interested or not. But, I favour transparency of council and everyone is agreed on that. We want to have as much communication, contact and connectivity with ratepayers and others further afield as possible.”

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