Committee votes to review Council's working group structure

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Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council's Craigavon headquarters.

Adam Morton

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Local Democracy Reporter

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s working group structure is to be reviewed.

A decision to review the make up of the behind closed doors meetings was taken during the council’s governance, resource and strategy committee meeting on Wednesday, September 8.

The matter was initially raised by independent councillor Darryn Causby who said the issue had become “one of frustration” for him.

“I suppose it has raised its head again as I now sit an independent but I have always believed the make up of the working groups is not right,” said Cllr Causby.

“At present it is two from each party, that means the Alliance Party have 66 per cent of their members on working groups and Sinn Fein, DUP and Ulster Unionists would only have 20 per cent of their members on them and I don’t see that as being democratically reflective of the make up of the Council.

“I would be of the view we need to be taking a different approach and make it more reflective of all of the sizes of the parties on the council.

“I would suggest we run d’Hondt in the same way we do for the 10 places on the PCSP and we allocate those via d’Hondt that would mean the DUP, UUP and Sinn Fein each have three, the SDLP and Alliance would have one and Paul Berry and I would have a space as well.”

Councillor Eoin Tennyson said he appreciated the proposal to a certain extent and would take the point about the need for independent representation.

However, he said it would be “a rash change” to how the council operates and proposed the decision was deferred for a month to be discussed at a future party group leaders’ meeting.

“I am keen that independent voices are heard in these working groups,” said Cllr Tennyson.

“I think that is a fair aim but I think we should take some time to consider the best way forward.”

Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle said he would be minded to support Cllr Tennyson’s approach that it be deferred for further discussion.

“My idea of the proper venue for this discussion would be the governance working group, so I will second the proposal if Cllr Tennyson would be happy with that,” he said.

Councillor Margaret Tinsley then seconded Councillor Causby’s proposal.

Having listened to the other proposal on the floor, Councillor Causby said he was of the view his proposal was “fairly straightforward” and would be the same discussion as would be had in the working group.

Council’s Chief Executive, Roger Wilson reminded members no decision would be taken on this matter until full council at the end of the month at earliest.

“Having not had the chance to discuss the issue with Councillor Causby I would like to get the opportunity to get my head around it and make sure I understand what is being discussed ,” said the Chief Executive.

“What I would suggest is that, based on what has been talked about, I take this away and look at it and we bring a report to Council as no decision will be made to that point in time.

“That will allow the team to double check no decision is made that could lead to a future issue.”

Cllr Tennyson said he would still be keen to see this come back to the next governance committee to give members time to explore options and independent Councillor Paul Berry said he would be in agreement with this proposal.

SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon said that in order to give this issue the time it needs he would be supporting Cllr Tennyson’s proposal.

Questioning what legal impact a change to working groups make up could have, Councillor Darryn Caubsy sought clarification as to what legal opinion was required.

Council’s strategic director of strategy and performance, Sharon McNicholl advised said some of the detail would need to be reviewed to make sure there were no legal implications.

Following this, the Chief Executive said his primary concern was making sure any decision made is legally sound and suggested that members discuss the matter at the Council meeting at the end of the month as it falls into the “natural order and cycle”.

Councillor Kyle Savage proposed the committee followed the advice of the Chief Executive and let officers work on it before bringing it to full Council at the end of the month.

With this proposal on the floor, Cllr Causby withdrew his proposal and seconded Cllr Savage’s proposal.

Cllr Tennyson’s proposal to defer the matter for a month and discuss it at the governance committee’s working group was then put to the floor and was supported by the chamber with 10 votes in favour and eight votes against.

One of the members present at the meeting, DUP Councillor Ian Wilson suffered technical difficulties and was unable to vote on the issue. Members present from the Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein voted in favour of the proposal.

The eight votes against the proposal came from the two independent members of of the council, the present UUP members and the remaining DUP members present.

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