By Cronan Scanlon
DESPITE holding an increasing number of secret meetings where important decisions affecting tax payers are made, the local media has been urged to be “proactive” in promoting Donegal County Council business.
The new Mayor, Councillor Ian McGarvey made the call at the start of the public session of the council’s monthly meeting in Lifford on Monday.
Ironically, Cllr McGarvey’s comments came after the ladies and gentlemen of the press were excluded from another unscheduled “workshop” or private meeting.
At that meeting, councillors and senior council staff discussed at length the council’s perilous financial situation as well as the latest local government audit.
The main meeting, which is open to members of the press and public, was scheduled to take place at 11 am.
However, when reporters attempted to enter the council chamber they were informed that a so called workshop was taking place.
The workshop is a phenomenon that occurred regularly at the former Milford Electoral Area meetings and has become a regular feature at meetings of the Stranorlar Electoral Area.
During an open discussion on the council’s need to save an additional €2 million to €3 million, the County Manager, Mr Seamus Neely, suggested the holding of another workshop.
Fine Gael Councillor, Bernard McGuinness, echoed Mr Neely’s suggestion, adding that a workshop was needed “to do this right.”
However, this prompted Sinn Fein’s Cllr Jack Murray to ask: “What have you got to hide.”
Cllr Mick Quinn (SF) added that the public have a right to know: “So, we should not be hiding in workshops.”
Following a query from the Donegal News last month on the issue of workshops, a council spokesperson said a provision exists within local government law to facilitate the holding of them.
“Generally, a request for a workshop will initiate from within a particular service of the council and provides Members (Councillors) with an opportunity to discuss items in a less formal setting,” the spokesperson said.
“The holding of same is then approved at the next appropriate meeting of the council. A workshop provides the opportunity to discuss items relating to individual constituents etc which would not be appropriate or permissible at a council meeting under data protection.
“The workshop format also allows for protracted debate before matters are formally presented to council.”
The spokesperson did not respond to our question on whether or not the council keep a record of the minutes or the number of workshops held.
However, in relation to the Stranorlar Electoral Area, the spokesperson added, a workshop is usually held before each committee meeting and a minute is prepared.