Eoghan Dalton Reports
Members of Waterford City and County Council’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC) have rejected a request to allow local radio to record and broadcast its quarterly meetings examining approaches to criminal activity.
The decision was taken last week after committee members overwhelmingly voted to move discussion of the request into a private forum behind closed doors. During this second discussion, members agreed not to allow the meeting be recorded and broadcast.
Cllr John Hearne (SF) had originally proposed it. “We’re all wearing long trousers. [The public] should be allowed to know what we’re doing and how we’re conducting our business,” he said.
Cllr Cha O’Neill (Ind) felt the current method is suitable for all. “No one ever had any problem giving a recording down the back [of the room] when the meeting would be done, and we’d be able to make statements. I often heard [Supt Chris Delaney] on WLR the day after and any questions he was asked after the meeting, there was no problem with him giving the information,” he said.
He feared the discussions would suddenly see “grandstanding” from members, while also worrying that parts of the meeting could be broadcast too quickly: “Before you’d get home it’d be on the radio. The manager never had any problems answering the questions so I think well enough should be left alone.”
He also asked for the viewpoint of the Garda representatives at the meeting. Chief Supt Padraig Dunne said Gardaí would leave the voting members of the committee to decide; elected Councillors and the Public Participation Network, a group made up of voluntary members of local communities.
He further noted that if WLR’s request was granted, future meetings would require members to submit all questions in advance. This, he explained, would allow the members of An Garda Síochána present to be able to “respond in a meaningful way to all those questions because we would be able to address them having received them beforehand”.
Following this, members of the PPN signalled their intention to decline the request to record the meetings for broadcast. While observing that many questions have to be submitted beforehand as is, member Breda Halligan said Gardaí present in the meetings do answer questions that haven’t been forecast prior.
“I would be a little bit concerned [if Gardaí were not willing to answer impromptu queries]. I’d have no problem with it being recorded, it is a public meeting, everybody should know what’s going on,” she said. Similarly fellow PPN member Donal Murphy was concerned that if a sensitive issue got out in the public domain, “it could be detrimental”. Director of Services Ivan Grimes also notified Councillors that currently there is no JPC in the country that allows its discussions to be broadcast on radio.
Cllr Pat Fitzgerald (SF) objected to a proposal to move into a private sitting. “I would say that the public have an interest in the discussion,” he said.
Cllr Jason Murphy (FF), who would vote for the motion to be discussed in private, told members he had “no concern with it being discussed in public”. He continued:
“Sometimes sensitive information can come up and it might be ruled out of order by the Chair. My only fear is if something that was ruled out of order ended up in the public domain [on a radio broadcast].”He was among several members who expressed fears that journalists would accidentally broadcast sensitive issues that would not otherwise make it into the public domain, although Cllr Murphy later said it was “shifting the goalposts” to say that it was about the ability of the reporters. “This is not about WLR. We all know WLR are professional,” he said.