Local Alliance representatives have criticized a ‘lack of transparency’ over how crucial staffing decisions at the Down Museum were made by Newry, Mourne and Down Council in March 2020.
Following a Freedom of Information request by the Lecale Historical Society, which requested information relating to the decision-making process which resulted in the rationalization of a number of posts at the Museum over the last two years, the council has responded stating that whilst it holds such information, it will not be releasing it to the public.
Alliance MLA Patrick Brown, who as a councillor secured a strategic review of museum services after the scale of downgrading came to light, blasted the move by the local authority: “This is yet another example of the culture of secrecy and obfuscation within our local council. The fact is, council management know they have made serious errors by downgrading our county museum, and they are now attempting to cover their tracks.”
He continued: ‘The FOI response has revealed that the council holds minutes from a senior management team meeting in March 2020 which approved a new staffing structure for museums across the district. Crucially, this structure removed the full-time curator post from Down County Museum, instead installing a full-time curator in Newry, as well as the removal of a number of crucial posts relating to collections and photography at Down Museum. However, council have refused to share this information, their reasoning being that it would be ‘unfair to disclose a report publicly that was not presented to elected members’. In follow up FOI questions questioning who was involved in making these decisions and if councillors were informed of the changes was met with the same repetitive response of ‘no information recorded’.
Councillor Cadogan Enright commented on this lack of transparency and good governance from council officers as “yet another example of how unelected bureaucrats from Newry are chipping away at the county town of Down, with devastating implications for Downpatrick and its local economy. Tourism must be central to any future plan for Downpatrick, yet time and time again our council seeks to strip away or ignore our most important assets in favour of Newry or Newcastle. This is why the Alliance party has a bold plan to restore our County town, and will continue to oppose the downgrading of our area by the local council.”
Brown added: “Transparency in Newry, Mourne and Down council has been a recurring issue and Alliance councillors have been working hard to promote transparency in local government. In 2019 I proposed a motion for the recording of all meetings within council, but the motion was voted down by Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors. If it had passed, then details of how these decisions relating to the museum were made might have been publicly available.” “Our team is now working hard to ensure that the Strategic Review undergoing will work to restore lost positions within the museum and ensure council works alongside key stakeholders to see this community resource restored as an integral part of our tourism offering.”