Longford County Council newly-elected members
Timing is everything. If voters in Longford had known that the first action of the new council would be to reduce the number of monthly meetings on Longford County Council, would they have cared? Judging by the reaction to the news, they care very deeply about this decision.
And so they should, for the public has a right to see local democracy in action. Local authority meetings are one of the few places where members of the public get to see that. It is here that the machinations, and sometimes the grind, of local politics are played out and reported upon by local media. It is open and, for the most part, transparent.
By cutting the number of county council meetings, access to the workings of the council, and the workings of the councillors, has been greatly reduced to the public. And the question has to be asked why.
One of the reasons given on the day was that lengthy meetings don’t always collaborate with working life. This is a fair point.
Councillors get around €17,000 per annum and this means that most of them need another source of income to survive the term as a councillor.
Between council meetings, municipal district meetings and committee meetings as well as social events, being a county councillor can be hugely time consuming. As it stands, you effectively need to be rich, retired, self-employed or with flexible hours, or have a very understanding boss.
It was an issue raised in Kildare at their first meeting of the new county council recently. There, it was proposed that council meetings were moved to time that would suit councillors working during the day. Maybe more members of the public would attend meetings held at a more convenient time too?
It is easy to trot out lazy stereotypes about councillors but the vast majority of them work very hard for their constituents.
However the council chamber can become a bubble in itself where councillors miscalculate how the public might feel about certain decisions. This is one such instance and if councillors were back seeking votes from the public anytime soon, they would be made aware of that. But then again, timing is everything.