The introduction of remote council meetings will open up the possibility of being a local public representative to many more people, a Fine Gael Senator and former Councillor has said.
Senator Emer Currie is Fine Gael’s Seanad Spokesperson on Employment Affairs, Work/Life Balance and had raised this matter with the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar earlier in the year when she was still a Councillor.
Senator Currie was responding to the news today that the Government has signed a Ministerial Order allowing Councillors to hold meetings and vote remotely.
Senator Currie said: “The news that Minister Darragh O’Brien has signed a Ministerial Order to allow Councillors to meet and vote remotely is really positive, and I believe it could open up the option of being a public representative to many more people and increase the diversity of our public representatives.
“While the Order does not mean that all local authority meetings will have to take place online, it should give Councillors more choice depending on their personal circumstances and preferences. It will also protect the invaluable role of the Councillor at times when they can’t meet physically, like now due to COVID-19. Never has community representation been more important.
“Earlier this year, when I was still a Councillor, I wrote to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment Leo Varadkar, as well as the Minister for State with responsibility for Employment Affairs and Retail Businesses, Damien English on these issues. I asked them to facilitate increased participation and remote voting at council meetings. We were working remotely and staying connected with each other as public representatives and with Council officials, but we had no legal authority to take statutory decisions or present legally-binding motions remotely. It is really positive to see this now happening and it presents an opportunity for increased flexibility into the future.
“In the longer term this is about choice. It is also about giving flexibility to people and encouraging diversity in our public representation.
“Women represent a mere 23.9% of local authority members and Ireland has the 10th lowest representation of women in our national parliament in the EU at just 22.2%. Research indicates that one of the barriers women face is a lack of time due to family responsibilities.
“The option of remote meetings and voting may make it easier for a woman who has just given birth to take part in council meetings. It could help to better facilitate parents with childcare arrangements. It may make it easier for someone who is medically vulnerable or who has a disability to take part in local democracy. It could also allow people to better balance their job with the role of Councillor, which is supposed to be part time and is paid as such, but in reality, is a full time and very demanding role.
“As I have been saying since the start of the pandemic, remote working and working from home during a pandemic are not the same thing, but the opportunity has presented itself for long-term change”, Senator Currie concluded.