From hiding a blessing from the Pope out of shot and turning the air blue when it all goes wrong to switching off the camera to save bandwidth and saying goodnight to one another ‘Walton’s style’, meetings of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council are certainly… different.

There was a time journalists would have been frogmarched out of Enniskillen Townhall if we even attempted to record a Council meeting. Now, of course, one can peer inside the homes of our dear elected representatives sitting in their slippers without complaint and record the whole thing, thanks to the wonders of technology. But whether one wants to see where they lay their head of a night, the colour of their curtains or in the case of a select few, right up their nostrils (I jest), remains to be seen. However, the Council has been praised, understandably so, for continuing with its business amid this pandemic by encouraging its members to work remotely from home.

Despite internet issues and the exhausting nature of video conferencing councillors such as Independent representative Bernice Swift have been regularly meeting to discuss local issues. She admits Covid-19 has changed democracy for this part of the world as much as the rest.

“I just get on with it without much make-up and no heels plus no travelling is all very good for our carbon footprint,” Councillor Swift told this newspaper.

“Being proficient with ICT I didn’t have any technical disasters, however, positioning my Zoom screen for view where there wasn’t a picture of the Sacred Heart, Mother of God, the Pope’s Blessing or The Proclamation to the Irish Republic was my only issue and funnily enough became humorous when Councillor Robert Irvine admired the bottom of a nice frame in view which happened to be our Marriage Blessing from Rome, all of this after my concerted efforts to sit in a neutral space,” she laughed.

Councillor Swift said while communication via virtual meetings is not the same as real-life, the seriousness of Covid-19 is “first and foremost.”

And she added: “Socially councillors communicate both at the beginning of the meetings whereby Councillor Victor Warrington checks out the hair-dos for Erne West and at the end a little thing I started whereby some of us before clicking close at the end of a very long meeting some say Good Night to each other Walton’s style’ so it’s, ‘good-night Jim-Bob, good-night Mary-Ellen’ and it never gets old,” she said.

SDLP Councillor Adam Gannon says the meetings are now “slower than normal” and admits to missing his Council colleagues and “the wee catch-ups with people”.

“Zoom meetings are normally good because you get to see everyone's faces and reactions but due to the poor internet speeds some councillors have we've all had to turn off our cameras to save bandwidth.

“I am pretty good with computers so I've had no issues, but one or two councillors have unintentionally let their frustrations be known with some choice language when their mic has still been on,” he said.

Independent Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh said it is to the Council’s “credit” that it has maintained “the institutions of democratic oversight and accountability”.

“There are humorous moments though like the time one occasion one of the more senior members was struggling with the technology and let out an epithet without realising that the mic was still working

“Overall it definitely seems harder to sit through a three and a half hour teleconference meeting than a normal Council meeting. The redundant comments certainly seem more redundant by the end,” he said.