Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has kept almost 100 debates behind closed doors since it launched a new “successful” trial scheme to take agenda items out of confidential sessions.
Council officers advised elected reps (August 21, 2023) of a system to bring more discussions into the public eye, after councillors raised concerns over a lack of transparency in chambers.
However, since the pilot was announced, there have been 96 items kept in confidential session and only parts of three items brought in to open debate, in the three month period ending 22 November 2023.
A NMDDC spokesperson said: “In terms of closed session reports, all council committee reports are reviewed and judged on their own individual merit.
“Proposed items for exemption and accompanying rationale under the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014 are detailed in council agendas and considered by elected members.
“The pilot had elements of a report that could be discussed in open session tabled, but with exempt information in line with the legislation still being held in closed session.
“It is working successfully and is still being used by officers when examining reports for agenda upload.”
Significant chamber debates including; asbestos control, St Patrick’s Day parades, the Belfast to Dublin economic border and Newry city park have all been held in secret since the pilot scheme started.
The Local Democracy Service previously revealed a similar amount (98) of items in closed session over a three month period (March -May 2022) before the council’s trial system was ever engaged, showing little change.
Since the open session trial began, three confidential debates have been partly opened including discussions on; district electoral area forums, emergency management plan and a notice of a motion on leisure centres.
Appendices on the details of these items were kept away from the public.