Councillor Harkin stated that Councillor Donnelly had attempted to submit a call-in regarding this item as he and other Members had not heard the recommendation being endorsed. However, the Lead Legal Services Officer had advised that the request had been submitted late and could therefore not be accepted. He stated that no discussion had taken place with Members of People Before Profit (PBP) regarding the allocation of rooms and furthermore, they had not agreed to the recommendation. He stated that in his opinion, the larger parties had been allocated rooms whilst the smaller parties and Independent Members were required to share office space.
In response, the Lead Legal Services Officer advised that the Democratic Services Directorate were currently in the process of making arrangements to ensure that meeting space would be made available on a booking basis for the Alliance, PBP, Aontú and Independent Members, as and when required.
Councillor Donnelly concurred with the remarks made by Councillor Harkin and stated that Members from the UUP, PBP and the Independent grouping believed that they had been within the appropriate time period to submit a call-in on the matter. However, they were advised that it was too late for submission. He expressed his disappointment on the matter and stated that in his opinion, there was an unwillingness by the larger parties to offer appropriate office space to the smaller parties. He suggested a rescinding of the proposal which required agreement from at least 12 Elected Members and asked for legal clarification on the matter.
In response, the Lead Legal Services advised that a rescinding motion had to be brought forward with prior notice, therefore it could be considered at the September meeting of Council.
Councillor Reilly stated that the matter had previously been deferred from the meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee on 4 June 2019. He stated that the larger parties had agreed at that meeting to defer until full Council so that all 40 Elected Members could discuss the matter. He described the suggestion that smaller parties were being forced out by larger parties as ‘nonsense’. He stated that at the Council meeting held on 27 June, the opportunity had arose for all 40 Members to discuss the matter and as the minutes from that meeting had indicated, Members agreed unanimously to endorse the recommendation for Appendix 2, Option 2. He stated that a number of options had been presented at the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee meeting and that Committee members had agreed that Appendix 2, Option 2 was the most suitable as it laid out the method of dealing with available office space in a way that would be most cost effective for the rate payer. He further stated that Members had two opportunities to brief themselves on the matter. However, having heard the previous remarks, he suggested that if it was of benefit and assistance to Members, that officers consider further options and present a report to the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee meeting in September.
Councillor Duffy stated that a discussion had taken place on the matter and that she was confused as to how some Members had not heard it taking place. She further stated that the meeting papers had stated that the matter would be discussed at Council.
Councillor Gallagher stated he would make use of the Independent Members’ office, if and when he required it.
Councillor Durkan stated that as a Member of one of the larger parties, she had also not been aware of the matter being discussed and hoped that it was not a reflection of a lack of diligence on her part. She stated that larger parties should be part of the solution and that she did not think it satisfactory if Members would not have equal access to facilities.
Councillor McKinney concurred that all parties and Independent Members should have access to the same facilities.
The Mayor stated that Members had been given the opportunity to discuss the matter with party leaders and Council officials. She stated that in her opinion, it was not the case that larger parties were attempting to ‘lock’ Members from rooms. She stated that if Members had issues with the matter, there had been opportunities for them to raise it at the June meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee and at full Council. She stated that officers were dealing with the matter and that there was an opportunity throughout the recess period to resolve any issues. She further stated that Members needed to take responsibility on such matters going forward and to pay attention to business under discussion at Committees and Council.
Councillor Reilly concurred that if any Members had raised concerns to approach officers or indeed SDLP members on the matter over the summer period. He reiterated that if larger parties had been attempting to block smaller parties then the recommendation would have been endorsed at the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee meeting and that the SDLP respected the mandate of all 40 Elected Representatives.