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Sinn Fein and DUP are urged to lift bar on virtual Belfast council committee meetings


People Before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson

People Before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson

People Before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson

Sinn Fein and the DUP are being asked to "see sense" and end their opposition to virtual Belfast City Council committee meetings.

People Before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson said she will raise the issue at a party group leaders' meeting tomorrow.

Alliance, SDLP and Greens support the proposal, which they say is vital for accountability, scrutiny and democracy.

They are perplexed as to why City Hall hasn't followed the example of other councils and the Stormont Assembly by holding online committee meetings. The council last night said it hoped virtual committee meetings will be held from August.

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Ms Ferguson said she was stunned when council management asked party group leaders to hold online public sessions with constituents, while not facilitating online committees.

At the start of the coronavirus crisis the council voted for decisions to be made by its chief executive Suzanne Wylie with input from the party group leaders.

A new law paved the way for virtual committees to take decisions. However, this was blocked by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Ms Ferguson said: "Hundreds of thousands of people log on to work from home but we haven't held committees for months. We're told technology isn't in place but councils across Ireland and Britain are meeting quite regularly, so this doesn't hold up.

"Moreover, we've been asked if we would hold online meetings with constituents, begging the question: why can we do this but aren't permitted to hold committee meetings? The issue will discussed again tomorrow. We are urging Sinn Fein and the DUP to see sense."

The council said: "It was agreed at the council's party group leaders' meeting on May 12 to trial a virtual meeting of its strategic policy and resources committee in June as part of a phased approach to establishing committee meetings.

"It was also agreed that council meetings will take place in June (separate to the annual meeting) and July to ratify committee decisions for May and June. As part of this, it is intended that virtual meetings for all established committees will be introduced from August 2020 onwards."

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