Lisburn councillor Nicholas Trimble urges MLAs to get back to work as countdown is on for remote council attendance

Northern Ireland councillors could be forced to attend meetings in person if Stormont is not back up and running by November 5.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Local authority reps have been able to attend ‘hybrid’ meetings remotely, but the clock is ticking on the time left for the Assembly to rubber stamp an extension of the powers that allow councillors to participate in meetings via video-links.

In a letter dated September 26, seen by the Local Democracy Service, council chief executives have been told by the Department for Communities (DfC) that remote attendance has been extended for six months until March 24, 2023.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, the extension must now be approved by the Assembly by November 5 for it to remain in place until March.The letter states that the extending order is “subject to confirmatory procedure in the Assembly” meaning “it will cease to have effect 40 days from the date of making unless it has been approved by resolution of the Assembly”.

Nicholas Trimble (UUP) has emphasised why remote working is vitalNicholas Trimble (UUP) has emphasised why remote working is vital
Nicholas Trimble (UUP) has emphasised why remote working is vital
Read More
"First class sporting facility” in Lisburn featuring FIFA standard football pitc...

The online video scheme, which also allows media and the public remote access, was introduced due to the Covid lock down restrictions.

Lisburn and Castlereagh councillor Nicholas Trimble (UUP) has urged MLAs to get back to work.

He said: “If remote attendance for councillors was taken away due to Stormont not forming, then we would struggle to discharge our duties. For all matters affecting people in Northern Ireland, I do think that more pressure put on Stormont to be up and running again the better.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I would consider there are more significant reasons such as the cost of living crisis for the Assembly to be back in the chamber.

"However, the use of remote attendance has allowed for better practise of democracy, as for council members who do have other jobs, sometimes 9am to 5pm, it has become an essential service for them to be present at some significant meetings being held at short notice.”

A Castlereagh South councillor has also called for the Stormont department to go further and extend remote attendance “indefinitely” for the benefit of “accountable local democracy”.Cllr, Simon Lee (SDLP) said: “I don’t see why this could not be extended indefinitely. We have seen that these new online arrangements have worked really well, saved time and money, and is in my view more efficient.

“I have argued that this provides those of us with childcare responsibilities, or other caring responsibilities, the option to attend, and crucially contribute meaningfully.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Remote attendance makes participation in local democracy possible for a wider demographic of society. It also has meant greater access for the public.

“Constituents who want to observe the business of the council can do so with ease from home, and this improves accountability and awareness of the hard work elected members carry out on our community’s behalf.”

A DfC spokesperson confirming the extension this week, said: “The department has made the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Extension of Provisions Relating to Local Authority Meetings)(No 2) Order (NI) 2022.

“The Order extends the expiry date of section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, under which the current legislation on remote/hybrid meetings was made, until 24 March 2023.”