Irish Citizens’ Assembly

Irish Citizens' Assembly feature image

The Citizens’ Assembly was established by the Irish government in October 2016 (following a commitment made by Fine Gael in its 2016 general election manifesto); its work concluded in the late spring of 2018. It followed closely the model of the 2012-14 Irish Constitutional Convention in having as its members 99 citizens selected at random by a leading market research company, RED C, and an independent chair (a supreme court judge), Mary Laffoy. David Farrell (‘Research leader’) and Jane Suiter led the research on the Assembly, funded by the Irish Research Council.

The parliamentary resolution establishing the Citizens’ Assembly gave it five items to consider: abortion, the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population, fixed-term parliaments, the manner in which referenda are held, and how the state can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change

This exercise differed from the previous Convention on the Constitution in that politicians were not active members. Their conclusions formed the basis of a number of reports and recommendations that were submitted to the Irish parliament for further debate by the national representatives. To date, this has resulted in one successful referendum – on abortion in 2018. The Assembly’s report on climate change is currently being disused by a special committee of the parliament. Further details on the outcome of the Assembly are provided in the following table.

The submissions received are here: Link to public submission

The presentations and videos of on all topics are available here: Link to presentations and videos

And the initial speech on the place of abortion in the Irish constitution here: Link to YouTube video of initial speech

 

Topic Numbers of days of meetingsa Public submissionsb Output Date report sent to Parliament Government reaction
The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (abortion) 9.5 days 12,200 1 key recommendation (in various parts) 29 June 2017 Considered by a special parliamentary committee. Government accepted proposal for a referendum. Referendum passed in May 2018
How we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population 4 days 122 15 recommendations plus 6 ancillary ones 8 December 2017 No reaction to date
How the state can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change 4 days 1,185 13 recommendations 18 April 2018 A special parliamentary committee has been established to consider the report
The manner in which referenda are held 1.5 days 206 8 recommendations 21 June 2018 No reaction to date
Fixed term parliaments 1 day 8 7 recommendations 21 June 2018 No reaction to date

a Based on the published schedules for each weekend. This does not account for timetable over-runs, which proved to be pretty acute on several weekends. The numbers of days of meeting have been rounded to the nearest half day, excluding the time spent voting and counting the ballots.

b The number of public submissions on the topic in question published on the CA website.

We The Citizens

We The Citizens

We the Citizens was an academic project designed to bring citizens into the heart of debates about in democracy in Ireland. Set up in the midst of Ireland’s economic crisis, it was the initiative of a group of academics: David M. Farrell, Jane Suiter, Eoin O’Malley and Elaine Byrne. It was funded by Atlantic Philanthropies. The project was managed by Caroline Erskine and a small team located in a Dublin city centre office.  The chairperson was Fiach MacConghail, the director of the Abbey Theatre.

The primary motivation for this project was to demonstrate the merits of a citizens’ assembly in an Irish context – to show that regular citizens could be included in processes like this.  We the Citizens ran a series of seven citizen meetings around the country, leading to an experimental citizens’ assembly in Dublin in June 2011 where a representative group of citizens were randomly chosen to attend.

The project tested whether a deliberative form of democracy could work in Ireland at a time when people felt adrift and disconnected from power. The research found striking shifts in how participants feel about their ability to influence politics. As a result of their participation in the citizens’ assembly participants showed a greater interest in politics, expressed more willingness to discuss and become involved in politics, and felt more positive about the ability of ordinary people to influence politics.

The findings were presented to the leaders of every party in Ireland (including the parties in government) in a series of bi-lateral meetings.

The model later became a template for the Irish Constitutional Convention and many of the academic team were invited to form the Academic and Legal Support Group of the Convention, with David Farrell appointed as the research director of the Convention and Jane Suiter as the deputy research director.

Read the full Final Report

 

Video Links

 

Convention on the Constitution

Convention on the Constitution

In late 2012 the Irish government established the Convention on the Constitution, which followed many of the procedures spearheaded by We The Citizens — with randomly selected citizen members at the core and following carefully facilitated and informed small group discussions. It met for 14 months between December 2012 and February 2014.

The membership of the Convention comprises 66 citizens selected randomly from the greater population by a market research company and 33 legislators from the Irish parlaiment nominated by their respective parties and including representatives from the political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The 100th member was the chair, Tom Arnold, a respected individual from the charity sector. The Academic and Legal Support Group for the Convention was made up of  David Farrell (research director), Jane Suiter (deputy research director), Clodagh Harris, Eoin O’Malley, and Lia O’Hegarty.

The Convention was tasked by the government with considering eight topics: the term of the Irish presidency; whether to reduce the voting age for citizens; electoral reform; the right for citizens outside the state to vote in presidential elections; marriage equality; the role of women in the Constitutional; the participation of women in politics and public life; and blasphemy.  In addition, the Convention added to further items to its agenda: parliamentary reform and whether to insert a clause on economics, social and cultural rights into the Constitution.

In total the Convention made 43 recommendations, 18 of which would require constitutional amendment by a referendum.  To date, there have been three referendums, two of which have been successful (on marriage equality in 2015 and blasphemy in 2018), and one unsuccessful (on reducing the age requirement of presidential candidates).  There has also been extensive parliamentary reforms. Further reforms are promised or still being considered. The current state of play is summarised in the following table.

Assessing the ICC in terms of outcomes (as of January 2019)

Topic ICC output Government reaction Action
1. Reduction of presidential term 3 recommendations Government accepted 2; rejected 1 Referendum defeated May 2015
2. Reduce voting age 1 recommendation Government accepted this Referendum was promised for 2015; now promised within next 18 months (?)
3. Role of women in home/public life 2 recommendations Ministerial taskforce considered options. Government favoured simple removal of clause. Referendum likely in May 2019
4. Increasing women’s participation in politics 3 recommendations Ministerial task force to investigate further No update
5. Marriage equality 2 recommendations Government agreed to referendum and to supporting legislation Referendum passed May 2015
6. Electoral system 10 recommendations Government promised to establish an electoral commission and to task it with addressing 4 of the other recommendations; remaining 5 recommendations rejected Consultations ongoing about establishment of an Electoral Commission.
7. Votes for emigrants/N. Ireland residents in presidential elections 1 recommendation Ministerial task force considered options Referendum promised within next 18 months (?)
8. Blasphemy 2 recommendations Government agreed to principle of referendum Referendum passed October 2018
9. Dáil (parliamentary) reform 12 recommendations No formal response from government The bulk of the recommendations were implemented in June 2016
10. Economic, social and cultural rights 2 recommendations Government rejected this n/a

The public submissions on these topics are available here: Link to public submissions

Video Links

In this brief video some of those involved in the Convention, as members, organisers or observers, reflect on its legacy.

Marriage Equality Video

Panel discussion on marriage equality

Presentations by advocates of a Yes vote


Presentations by advocates of a No vote

Presentations by experts

Blasphemy Video

Final Q&A on blasphemy

Agreeing a Ballot Paper