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Councillors agree to allow online voting

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CHANGING STANDING ORDERS Mayo County Council has not been able to hold monthly meeting in Aras an Chondae due to social distancing regulations. However, under new rules, those who attend meetings remotely can now vote on important matters of business. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Anton McNulty

Mayo County Councillors have agreed in principle to allow online council meetings take place so to facilitate people who are unable to attend due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A proposal to amend standing orders to facilitate online or remote meetings of Mayo County Council was presented to councillors at yesterday’s monthly meeting of the Council which was held in the TF Royal Theatre.
At present, councillors unable to attend a meeting for reasons associated with the Covid-19 pandemic had to watch and listen to proceedings online, but were unable to vote on statutory matters.
Siofa Kilcullen, the meetings facilitator with Mayo County Council, explained that the Minister for Housing and Local Government has allowed for meetings to be facilitated remotely and for all decisions and votes taken to have the same status in law as those taken in person.
Ms Kilcullen outlined the amendments to the standing orders to facilitate online meetings which were proposed for adoption by the Corporate Policy Group (CPG) of Mayo County Council.
Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Ryan told the meeting that he had no issue in principle with the amendment but felt the councillors need to study the proposals before formally adopting them.
“We need to be careful going forward. Remote meetings can be beneficial but they cannot be the norm when it comes to doing our statutory and monthly business. In that regard I would propose the amendments subject to them going to the CPG and elected members for consideration at the December meeting,” he said.

Hybrid proposal
Fine Gael councillor Jarlath Munnelly proposed a hybrid proposal where physical meetings will still take place but councillors who cannot attend can attend remotely and participate online.
“Where it is possible we can meet in person and individuals can be facilitated and in extreme circumstances only perhaps we can meet online,” he said.
Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne said the protocol needed to be approved by all the members before the proposal can be formally adopted.
Acting Chief Executive Peter Duggan agreed with developing protocols on how online meetings should be addressed so everyone is clear.
“It is something new for us all. It is important we have protocols on how we conduct ours meetings online,” he said.
Cllr Seamus Weir wondered if the meetings should be taking place when the country is in Level 5 restrictions, saying that while the council is important, ‘we are not that important’ when people are told to stay in their homes.
His comments were criticised by Cllr Munnelly who said the councillors were in a ‘controlled environment’ which was safe and they were doing nothing against the rules by having a meeting.
Mr Duggan added the council are strictly adhering to the public health guidelines at the meeting. A similar proposal was adopted by members of the Westport/Belmullet Municipal District which was held in Áras an Chontae. While there was concerns that online meetings should not be the norm, Cllr Peter Flynn said that times are changing regardless if a vaccine for Covid-19 was discovered. He commented that online meeting will encourage more people to get involved in local politics as they will not have to take time off work to travel to meetings.