Proposal for Live Streaming of Council Meetings

live streamAt the Kildare County Council meeting on Monday 28th July, I made a call for live online streaming of all future council meetings. I tabled the motion requesting that the council explore streaming meetings of the council live over the web and requested that both district level and full council meetings should be accessible.

My view would be that any meeting where a public gallery exists should then be open to live streaming. The technology is there to do it and it’s a basic thing. Council meetings are still held during the day time which precludes a lot of people from attending. This proposal brings transparency and accessibility to local government.

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First Impressions on Local Government Reforms

So Big Phil finally published his ‘opus magnus’ yesterday with all the detail on local government reforms including abolition of town councils, levelling of councillor ratios across the country and creation of much bigger wards in Dublin and the commuter belt.

Still trying to digest it all (it’s a big document!) but my first impressions are as follows:

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Local Democracy Ard Fheis Motion

My proposing speech on local democracy motion:

That this Ard-Fheis calls for the implementation of measures that would provide for greater participation in local democracy. (Sallins Cumann, Kildare North)

Opening

Minister, Teachta Daila, Senators, A delgaidi, etc etc,

It is a great honour to address this Ard Fheis.

Intro

In proposing this motion I intend to address a twin track of public representation and more generally citizen involvement in public institutions and volunteer sector as a whole.

Public Rep versus Private Employment

Delegates I put it to you that current structures preclude large sections of today’s society from involvement in local democracy be it at elected representative or volunteer activist.

Pressures of Modern living including commuting, raising a family, increasing demands of the workplace make it difficult for all but the most motivated individuals to find time for participation in community activity.

Furthermore we risk alienating a significant pool of talent from the ranks of public representatives if we fail to recognise the conflict that exists between private employment and public representation, certainly at local authority level.

The duties of local representation encompass a significant weekly workload, an availability of contact and access to constituents as well as journalists and other stakeholders as well as regular meetings to conduct official council business usually scheduled during business hours.

However council business is still largely regarded as an honorary or part-time occupation certainly for remuneration purposes.

Town Council is regarded as entirely a position of honour whilst after expenses county or city councillors take away perhaps one fifth the salary of a senator certainly not a living wage.

All of this poses great challenges for any individual who must combine private employment with public duties both through financial necessity and because the nature of their occupation does not lend itself to availability during business hours.

As a consequence demographics of the body politic are not fully reflective of the greater public, the majority of whom are 9-5, PAYE workers, as only certain professions can accommodate the demands of public service.

Arguably it also denigrates the representation of citizens where advocates must juggle demands of external employment with public representation as priority conflicts are not easily reconciled –

This also leads in many cases to a dilemma of double-jobbing –
And in a crisis who comes first – the boss or the constituent?

Delegates I believe the remuneration levels for councillors should be revised and made reflective of the workload and demands of the position. If we are to attract candidates from the broader demographic spectrum this is a necessary step.

In the meantime I believe there are certain measures which could help reconcile the conflict –
Council business, certainly official meetings, could be made analogous to Jury Service or training with the Reserve Defence Forces for example which currently enjoy special status.

Legislation mandating the release of employees attaining positions in public service to mandatory leave facilities akin to parental leave legislation could be enacted.

Citizen Involvement

Broadening the argument to general citizen involvement an overlapping series of initiatives could be piloted to enable greater participation in community or council activity for both elected officials and general citizen involvement.

Whilst there is no substitute to face-to-face meetings for key decisions or introductions, web technologies offer many possibilities for remote conferencing and for online collaboration reducing the dependency on meetings and physical presence.

Individuals on a team can participate at times of own preference, collaborate on documents, posting opinions to web boards, using internet technologies for both remote meetings and to bring together offline contributions.

Also as corporate social responsibility grows in importance in the private sector, employees could be encouraged to participate in community activism with support from employers. Similar programmes already exist towards many charitable activities such as the Junior Achievement organisation where employers allow employees time to work in

There is no reason this could not be rolled out to community and local government participation.
Public sector employers could lead by example in this regard.

Other options may include financial allowances such as tax credits for involvement in public service duties.

Conclusion

Delegates let us recognise the increasing role and workload our councillors perform and let us adapt to the demands of changing modern society. I propose that councillors should enjoy sufficient remuneration to be freed from secondary occupations and in doing so that we acknowledge the huge contribution they make to local and community process.

We would also enable a currently under-represented generation and demographic to embrace the political process.

I believe this would enhance our party, our councils and our communities in the process.

Kildare Boundary Submissions

The constituency review is currently underway for local electoral boundaries as I spoke about previously. The committee is presently accepting submissions although this closes on Friday week (14th March).

I have been doing some background work on my own submission although have not got around to uploading it yet. I will do so in the next week and publish here when I do.

The review body is split into two groups, one considering Dublin and city councils, the other looking at county council areas. Kildare of course, falls under the latter category. There are three headline items under the review terms of reference, namely to align Dáil and council boundaries, to remove 3-seater electoral areas, and to maintain existing numbers of councillors constant within each council. The first two make sense although the last caused some disappointment as it means areas like Kildare will still have a much higher councillor-population ratio than elswhere, as the population growth in the county has not been matched by increased local representation.

Looking at the website, there have been 22 submissions received to date on the county side. Regarding Kildare, FG’s Tony O’Donnell has an excellent submission where he has performed virtual alchemy to bring all the current electoral areas back into line. He has redistributed population across the various wards to ensure an even councillor-constituent ratio whilst also observing the review terms of reference and all backed up with solid scientific argument.

Naas Town Councillor, Darren Scully, makes the other Kildare submission received to date. Darren’s submission recognises the influx of population into the northern end of the Naas ward and the disconnect of the community in the southern end. He argues for an extra seat bringing the LEA from 5 to 6 while simultaneously arguing for the removal of Ballmore/Kilcullen from the Naas LEA. Whilst both points have merit individually, taken together I’m not sure they make sense – surely it’s one or the other. It’s hard to find logic around losing half the ward AND gaining an extra seat at the same time, however politically desirable it may be. Of course the good people of the Naas LEA would be extremly well represented if this was to happen and there’d be no complaints from me either!

My own submission, though I’ve yet to frame it, will be to align the Dáil and LEA boundaries for the Naas area which is in keeping with the review terms of reference. This revision would see a truncation of the current LEA at the Kildare South border, dropping the Kilcullen/Ballymore end but including the Newtown ED around Punchestown which recently moved into the Kildare North consituency. I would consider pulling Bodenstown ED fully into Naas LEA, which is currently split between Naas and Clane and I would give serious thought to Caragh staying as is. Despite being Kildare South, culturally Caragh sits in the Naas hinterland and the case could be made for unform representation.

Anyway less blogging more action, I must get my act together and get that submission in, or it will all be academic!