Council meetings to be made available online

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An Alliance party proposal for audio recordings to be made of all council meetings was passed by the Assembly, on 19 March 2014.

The vote came during the assembly's marathon debate on the consideration stage of the Local Government Bill, which establishes arrangements for the operation of the 11 new councils.

The recordings will be kept for six years and will be made available on the internet.

The amendment was passed by 62 votes to 34.

Anna Lo of Alliance expressed disappointment that "the nationalist parties" had tabled a petition of concern about another of its amendments, Amendment 37.

This would make it compulsory for councils to promote equality and good relations when exercising their newly-acquired planning powers.

Alex Attwood of the SDLP said there was no definition of good relations and this left a vacuum in the middle of the amendment.

He called for Ms Lo to withdraw the amendment.

Ms Lo accepted a suggestion from the DUP's Peter Weir that, if the amendment was passed at consideration stage, a definition of good relations could be provided at further consideration stage.

Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff said the Alliance amendment "does not reflect the safeguards contained in Section 75 of the NI Act 1998"

He said Section 75 was "a key piece of legislation" and that if there was a reference to good relations in the legislation then Sinn Fein would want an interpretation clause to define what it meant.

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott reflected Mr Attwood's view that there was "a significant gap" in the amendment.

Peter Weir of the DUP said the success of community planning would depend largely on the attitude of participants.

He said he was a little bit surprised by the level of opposition to the Alliance amendment on good relations.

"Thirty-seven is clearly going to fall today," he said.

NI21's Basil McCrea agreed that there was no satisfactory definition of good relations.

He expressed caution at attempting to codify the term, saying, "if anything can be learnt of this peace process, if you try to legislate for things, it sometimes has the perverse effect of enshrining into law that which you which to prevent".

Mr McCrea said there was "a danger when you specify certain groups that you exclude others - you could get to the point where the best organised, the best funded groups believe they should have a say in government".

Alliance's Stewart Dickson called on Sinn Fein and the SDLP to withdraw the petition of concern and "get on board with the equality agenda".

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan supported the Alliance Amendment 36 which "added an additional duty on councils to promote shared use of spaces".

He said, "councils should encourage shared use of space where all are welcome."

Mr Durkan proposed that voluntary and community bodies would have "reasonable" opportunity to give input into community planning, but rejected the proposed Amendment 40, whereby they would be required to take a role in community planning.

He said it would not be appropriate to place a statutory requirement on non-statutory bodies to take part in council decisions, as it would place an undue burden on them.

Anna Lo, winding the debate, welcomed the atmosphere of co-operation

She cited the Equality Commission's definition of good relations and said "we're not working in a vacuum, let's put it on the face of this bill, then we can work at further consideration stage".

The fourth part of the debate can be viewed here. The sixth part can be viewed here.

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