September 30, 2023

Kilkenny Council under fire over vote to ban public and press from policy meetings

KILKENNY County Council has come in for criticism over its controversial decision to ban members of the public and the media from its policy meetings.

On Friday the city and county’s newly elected councillors voted to exclude public and press from all its strategic policy committees (SPCs).

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) criticised the move this weekend and called for a “national policy” to ensure transparency in our local authorities.

NUJ Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley said on Twitter: “The committees should operate in public, much like the Oireachtas Committees at national level.

“If they need to conduct some of their business in private session, as happens at Oireachtas Committees, that is one thing. But the principle must be that they are heard in public.

“We will be calling on our members around the country to report any press restrictions at councils. The committee system has been abused by some councils to the extent now that there needs to be a national policy on this.”

SPC meetings formulate council policy. Up until now media and members of the public were welcome to attend meetings of the SPCs.

SPCs exist in every local authority to advise and assist the council in the formulation, development and review of policy. Membership is comprised of elected members, council staff and experts in relevant fields.

There are currently five SPCs in Kilkenny County Council, specialising in economic development, infrastructure, housing, environment, and planning and heritage.

At Friday’s inaugural meeting of the new council there was an item to exclude public access to the SPCs.

Green Party councillor Malcolm Noonan tabled a counter motion that the public and members of the press should continue to be able to attend. However, his motion was defeated 19 votes to five.

Most Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors, who make up 20 of our 24 elected local representatives, voted to allow to exclude public access. Only Cllr David Fitzgerald (FG) of the ‘big two’ parties voted in favour of allowing members of the public to attend the meetings.

Councillors Noonan and Fitzgerald were joined by Labour’s Denis Hynes and Tomás Breathnach and newly elected Independent Eugene McGuinness to allow public access.

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