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Belfast council row at decision to block online committees

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Alliance, the SDLP, People Before Profit and the Greens have blasted the DUP and Sinn Fein on Belfast City Council for joining together to oppose virtual committee meetings

Alliance, the SDLP, People Before Profit and the Greens have blasted the DUP and Sinn Fein on Belfast City Council for joining together to oppose virtual committee meetings

Alliance, the SDLP, People Before Profit and the Greens have blasted the DUP and Sinn Fein on Belfast City Council for joining together to oppose virtual committee meetings

Alliance, the SDLP, People Before Profit and the Greens have blasted the DUP and Sinn Fein on Belfast City Council for joining together to oppose virtual committee meetings.

They said they were perplexed as to why City Hall was not following the example of other councils, and the Stormont Assembly, by holding online committee meetings.

The four parties said that doing so was vital for accountability, scrutiny and democracy on the council.

Sinn Fein and the DUP, which together hold a slight majority in City Hall - 33 out of 60 seats - joined forces to defeat the motion from People Before Profit and Alliance.

The virtual meeting proposal was also supported by the SDLP, Ulster Unionists, and the PUP.

"Alliance group leader Michael Long said he was deeply disappointed at the action of the two biggest parties in Belfast.

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.

But a new law paved the way for councils to hold virtual committees to take decisions.

Mr Long said: "It's very strange that when we move to have councillors back making decisions, the DUP and Sinn Fein vote against it.

"Many other councils in Northern Ireland have held virtual committee meetings using online software or apps, with little or no issues.

"There is no reason why committees in Belfast - with between 14-20 members - can't do similar.

"We think it's now time that decision-making on day-to-day issues was handed back to elected councillors.

"I'm disappointed for the ratepayers of Belfast that the DUP and Sinn Fein don't appear to think similarly."

People Before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson said: "Every party in City Hall supported my proposal to return decision-making from management into the hands of elected councillors but unfortunately the DUP and Sinn Fein blocked that from happening.

"There is no reason not to revert to normal decision-making processes.

"We all have council laptops, and the council has offered to help pay broadband costs.

"People voted last year for councillors, not City Hall management, to take decisions. Other councils across the North can do it, why can't we?

"The DUP-Sinn Fein opposition is outrageous at a time of a public health crisis when so many important decisions are being made."

SDLP councillor Seamas de Faoite said: "Many other councils across the North have conducted business virtually. There is no reason why Belfast City Council cannot do the same."

Green councillor and party deputy leader Malachai O'Hara said: "We just can't see why they won't agree to remote committee meetings when other councils and the Assembly are doing it. We need to move ahead with this."

DUP group leader George Dorrian said: "The system we have in place works for us. Authority has been delegated to chief executive Suzanne Wylie who consults with the party group leaders on decisions, so the parties do have a say in things."

Sinn Fein has been contacted for comment.

Belfast Telegraph