Northern Ireland

Alliance councillor stepping down as end of hybrid council meetings made balancing family life ‘impossibly hard’

Covid legislation allowing hybrid council meetings lapsed earlier this year

Alliance's Peter McReynolds, Sian O'Neill, Ross McMullan and Nuala McAllister. Picture by Hugh Russell
Ross McMullan (centre) with Alliance Party colleagues including leader Naomi Long after being elected to Belfast City Council in 2019. PICTURE: HUGH RUSSELL

A Belfast Alliance councillor has announced he is standing down citing the ending of hybrid council meetings.

Ross McMullan, who was elected to represent the Ormiston area in 2019, said he is leaving the role next week, saying maintaining a balance between being a father with a young family and a councillor has become “impossibly hard”.

Mr McMullan said the recent ending of hybrid council meetings, in which councillors can attend via videolink from home, had become an issue.

Councils across the north received notification earlier this year that all hybrid meetings were to stop, and all elected members must attend in-person.

Regulations allowing hybrid meetings had been brought in under Covid legislation, and Stormont communities minister Gordon Lyons had said there was “no justification” in extending them, prompting criticism from councillors, with the move even dubbed “anti-family” by one elected representative.

Mr Lyons has since announced hybrid meetings can continue in future under new legislation.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr McMullan said: “I am now a dad to two incredible daughters who are three and almost two. Maintaining a balance between a young family (with other family circumstances to contend with), my work (beyond council) and a council role...has become impossibly hard for me to get right - and something needs to give way.”

The Department for Communities has said the minister is “committed to giving councils the flexibility to hold meetings by remote/hybrid means and will be bringing forward regulations, as soon as possible, using the powers in the Local Government (Meetings and Performance) Act (NI) 2021″.