Council ready to go online with video meetings

Council ready to go online with video meetings

20 May 2020

NEWRY, Mourne and Down Council is planning to harness the power of video conferencing facilities to resume its schedule of monthly meetings.

No monthly or committee meetings have taken place since early March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, senior council officials have been given executive powers to make decisions and they have also been holding weekly online meetings with the leaders of the local authority’s main parties.

Last week, a trial video conferencing meeting of the influential Strategic Policy and Resources Committee was held and was hailed a success by all those who took part.

There are also suggestions that next month’s annual council meeting — due to be held in Newry’s Canal Court Hotel — will be streamed online ahead of ramping up the use of video conferencing facilities for all future meetings.

Council officials plan to utilise the so-called Zoom facility which is one of the leading video conferencing software apps on the market, allowing people to virtually interact with co-workers or employers when in-person meetings aren’t possible. 

With Covid-19 wreaking havoc across the world, Zoom has become an essential tool for small, medium and large-sized organisations that want to keep in touch and continue their daily workflows with minimal disruption.

Rowallane councillors Robert Burgess and Billy Walker, both members of the local authority’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, described last week’s trial meeting as successful and said they were looking forward to all monthly meetings of the full council and committee sessions taking place in the near future.

Paying tribute to the council’s senior management team for its work over the past two months since the lockdown measures were introduced, the politicians believe it is now time for all meetings to reconvene.

“The trial run went extremely well and, who knows, maybe this is the way all council meetings could be conducted in the future,” said Cllr Burgess.

“As the coronavirus pandemic is still very much with us, virtual meetings allow all councillors to have a virtual input into the various committees,” he said. “Perhaps virtual meetings could become the new normal.”

Cllr Burgess added: “The use of modern technology will allow 41 councillors spread across a huge area to meet together and debate issues from the safety of their own homes.’

Cllr Walker said virtual meetings will allow council committees to resume their important work.

“While officers have been given delegated authority to make decisions and are in weekly contact with the party leaders, I have no doubt that they would been keen to see the return of the normal schedule of all meetings, even though they will be held virtually,” he continued.

“The virtual meetings are a temporary arrangement and while many councillors would like to be back in the debating chamber, that is simply not possible at the moment.

“Virtual meetings will also allow all councillors to take part in debates which is an essential ingredient in any democracy.”

Cllr Walker said that with the number of people losing their lives and new infections decreasing, he hoped there can be a progressive easing of lockdown measures.

A council spokesman confirmed on Monday that the organisation is currently “determining the best mechanism” by which to hold council and committee meetings.

“Once determined, the press and public will be notified,” he added.