Cork County Council became the first local authority in the country to host a blended meeting with on site and online councillors in attendance.
A series of upgrades to the chamber in County Hall created the space needed to accommodate 16 of the 55 councillors in County Hall this morning, Monday July 12th.
But there was more to it than being properly socially distanced, the county mayor Gillian Coughlan (FF) praised Council staff for IT updates and their skills, which allowed for an almost faultless audio-visual meeting.
There was just one hiccup after Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG) complained, ‘I have impaired hearing and even with a hearing aid I can’t hear clearly.’
When he re-joined the debate to request that the volume on the microphones be turned up he didn’t switch on his own, which effectively put him on mute.
In the chamber and online, it got a laugh and made for a moment of levity in a meeting that proved to be a new departure for local authority meetings.
As part of the new technological arrangements, there is now a microphone panel for the county mayor, the elected members and officials, as well as support for induction hearing loops and electronic voting buttons.
Another new feature of the blended meeting is the camera system that automatically selects and reflects the speaker, which has the effect of making it look rather like a fast-paced TV show.
Welcoming the completion of the upgrade, the Council’s chief executive Tim Lucey said the innovations were ‘reflective of our approach in leading by example in terms of service delivery.’
He said the enhancements to the Council chamber will open new doors for engagement between the Council and guests, both local and global, and ensure that local democracy is always accessible.
Although there is now an 18-point Covid-19 protocol in place, the mayor said she was delighted to see how ‘practicable and safe’ the return to County Hall proved to be.
Cllr James Kennedy (Lab) stressed the need for councillors to conduct their business ‘face to face’ whilst Cllr Kevin Murphy had an additional complaint. He said he had just ‘one bar’ of Wifi on his phone.
The former mayor Mary Linehan Foley (Ind) described the technological advances and the blended meeting as ‘a step forward.’