top of page
  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Councillors ordered to return to town hall meetings as DfC announces end to hybrid working

Meeting chamber of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council in The Braid, Ballymena

Councillors have been ordered to return to town halls in person after emergency legislation put in place during the Covid pandemic permitting attendance remotely expired on Wednesday.

The Department for Communities (DfC) said that Minister Gordon Lyons has now asked officials to bring forward fresh regulations as soon as possible to enable a return to remote or hybrid district council meetings.

The Department has stated this is "considered to be more appropriate than continuing to use emergency powers”.

During the pandemic, elected representatives have been able to attend meetings in person or remotely by video conference through emergency legislation under the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Commenting on the return, Mid and East Antrim Alliance Councillor Lauren Gray, a Carrick Castle representative, said:

“This is a disappointing move from the minister and I would urge him to reconsider.

“We must be constantly striving to make our council chambers vibrant and inclusive places, amplifying the voices of everyone in our community, breaking down barriers to anyone standing for election.

“The removal of the hybrid function disproportionately impacts parents, carers and people with disabilities. It is particularly galling the short notice given to councillors as many are now having to change caring arrangements.”

Knockagh Ulster Unionist Alderman Andrew Wilson commented:

“While I mainly attend full council and committee meetings in person, I fully respect the need of council to remain flexible as a public authority to make it easier for councillors with caring responsibilities or young families to attend meetings and have their voice heard.

“I believe the axing of virtual voting for council and committee meetings is a retrograde step by DfC and I would urge the minister to legislate for a return to hybrid meetings, to ensure inclusivity and flexibility are incorporated into the role of councillors.”

Coast Road DUP Cllr Andrew Clarke, said:

“Rolling extensions of emergency legislation long after the emergency has passed is no way to run a government. Using emergency powers for unrelated issues is the opposite of good governance.

"Politicians are quick to take powers, and not so good are giving them back. Gordon is right to end this abuse of coronavirus legislation.

“Proper, face-to-face meetings are much better, but it is true that remote access can allow for some efficiencies and fuller access. I support the minister in developing this option with the appropriate measures and scrutiny.”

Sinn Fein’s local government spokesperson Maolíosa McHugh MLA said:

“Hybrid meetings within councils across the north have made participation in council meetings more accessible, particularly for those with caring responsibilities, or mobility issues, for example.”

A Department for Communities spokesperson said:

“The minister has asked officials to bring forward regulations as soon as possible to enable remote or hybrid district council meetings using the powers in the Local Government (Meetings and Performance) Act (Northern Ireland) 2021. This is considered to be more appropriate than continuing to use emergency powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020.”


bottom of page