A VOTE taken by Armagh Council – which has seen the cost of broadband access for councillors doubling – has been blasted as “unnecessary” and “unfair” on local ratepayers.
Sinn Fein had called for councillors to opt for either broadband at home or 3G access while they are ‘on the move’ via iPads.
But the party was defeated on its ‘choose one or the other’ vote, with the DUP abstaining and the Ulster Unionists and SDLP backing the current situation.
At present, exactly half of Armagh’s 22 councillors have been allowed to access broadband and 3G in order to conduct their duties as elected representatives.
Armagh Sinn Fein Councillor Roy McCartney said: “Councillors have been supplied with iPads with 3G access to cut down on costs such as paper and postage. There have been complaints from some rural councillors that they could not access their reports because of mobile coverage issues where they live.
“So a request came before council to pay for broadband connections in councillors’ home, as well as the 3G access. The cost per councillor would rise from £18 per month to £36 per month.’
‘The rationale put forward was that the council as a body has a duty to ensure all councillors have access to reports in a timely manner to enable them to do their work. We do not have an issue with that, but we argued strongly that it should be a case of one or the other – either maintain the 3G mobile connection or take home broadband – not both.
‘The iPads can pick up Wi-Fi connections so they can still be used in the council building without 3G. We did not hear one rational argument for this other than ‘we are elected representatives’ to which my reply was ‘we are elected to serve, not to benefit’.’
Sinn Féin group leader Cathy Rafferty added: “This duplication of service forced through by the SDLP and UUP, with the DUP cowardly abstaining, will not be taken up by any of the Sinn Féin councillors.
“It should be noted that 11 councillors have been availing of the double service for quite a while, as they never had the home broadband stopped when they received the iPads. Even a city councillor has been benefiting at the expense of the ratepayer.”
DUP Councillor Gareth Wilson had accused Sinn Fein of using the issue as a “moral axe” and has asked that his provided broadband connection be stopped.