By Oliver Moran
A surprising aspect of the debate on political reform over the past few months is that discussion has been not only on the question of what needs to change but also on how we are to answer that question. It is possibly a consequence of the seriousness of the situation that we found ourselves in that the need for reform appears to be accepted and so the question falls onto a) what reforms and b) who decides. Furthermore, the second question demonstrates a seriousness to answer the first and a determination to answer it correctly.
The editors of this website have long advocated a Citizen’s Assembly as a means to decide on reforms. The ‘We the Citizens’ initiative is in the act of demonstrating the value of these kind of deliberative processes. One of those benefits is the legitimacy that they give to decisions that arise from them. Do we really want to look back in a decade’s time and see the decisions made during this time of change through the lens of ‘cui bono’ (‘who benefits’)? For the less conspiratorial minded, do we want to look back and ask if the fullest possible discussion took place? Will we be satisfied to know that decisions were arrived at through the intercourse of a (well-meaning) few? Who decides on reform is as central a question as which reforms.
Less practically, though just as importantly, if we are to demonstrate our much vaunted resilience to the current crisis, should we not, as a people, grasp the nettle of the failing of our state rather than shimmying that question off to somebody else? Should we not, as a people, take this time to reflect on and to develop ourselves as citizens and as a polity? Is the process of a Citizens’ Assembly and the grand dialog that would accompany one not a process through which we could turn crisis into opportunity? To reaffirm our commitment to ourselves and to the success of our state?
The political parties, at election time at least, bought into this. All of the parties represented in the last Dáil proposed some process of involving citizens in a meaningful way in deciding on political reforms. The Programme for Government similarly contained strong (all be they vague) commitments to such a process.
So where do we stand now, four months after the new government came into office? What is the process through which we will decide on reforms? In the Dáil, on the 3rd of May, the Taoiseach give the following description of the constitutional convention promised in the Programme for Government:
“I have not decided on the nature of the make up of the composition yet. As Deputy Martin will recall from being a Minister from many years, one of the weaknesses of social partnership was that the last people to be informed of the decision were Oireachtas Members. I do not envisage this would be the case with the constitutional convention. It will have an inclusivity which will allow elected Members of the Dáil, Seanad and local authorities and ordinary citizens to have their say. This can be a fundamental platform for the future, leading a democratic drive to make politics transparent, accountable and relevant to the people. I have no fixed view on the fractions or percentages mentioned; I do not know from where they came. Suffice it to say I would like to see the convention being inclusive and representing an opportunity for Seán Citizen — to whom the Deputy referred — being represented and being able to play his part, and that it would move throughout the country in the same way as the Forum on Europe and give everybody an opportunity, physically at meetings and also by the use of new communication methods, to voice their opinions. The convention would report within 12 months on the range of topics given to it.”
The question would thus still appear to be an open one. Does anyone have firm proposals for what the process will look like?
Maybe the answer to that question lies with the citizens themselves.SecondRepublic, a pressure group of citizens formed last November (with whom I am involved), recommends the following broad requirements for a deliberative process on reform:
- be independent of the Oireachtas in the exercise of its function,
- be open-ended in its remit and agenda,
- contain a representative cross-section of citizens,
- be citizen-led and not be dominated by political parties and interest groups,
- present its recommendations for a revised constitution, for political reform and for reform of public bodies pertaining to the proper democratic functioning of the State within 12 months of its formation,
- be binding insofar as these recommendations will be put to a referendum of the People within a further six months.
The group, which is country-wide in membership, have been working towards developing an explicit proposal for a process that would meet these requirements. A part of that effort has been to develop background material exploring the choices involved in arriving at that proposal. These make for interesting reading and can be downloaded from the group’s website.
The purpose of these documents is to inform an ambitious open meeting that the group will host this Saturday inDublinto decide on their proposal. The meeting will take place at:
Venue:OdessaClub,13 Dame Court,Dublin2 (See: http://www.odessa.ie)
Time: 11:00—17:00, Saturday, June 11th
To help estimate numbers, the group ask that those planning to attend register in advance. However, pre-registration is not necessary and all are welcome.
The proposal that will come out of Second Republic will further add to the discussion that is taking place on the how citizens will be involved in reform that is being played out between commentators such as this website, initiatives like We the Citizen, the commitments of the political parties and ultimately the decision of the government.
 Election period manifesto commitments: http://www.2nd-republic.ie/site/?page_id=972
 Programme for Government: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Publications/Publications_2011/Programme_for_Government_2011.pdf
 Dáil debates: http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2011/05/03/00004.asp
 ‘Citizen’s doing it for themselves’: http://politicalreform.ie/2010/12/06/citizens-doing-it-for-themselves-time-for-a-2nd-republic/
 Aims and Objectives of Second Republic: http://www.2nd-republic.ie/site/?page_id=943
 Discussion documents from Second Republic : http://www.2nd-republic.ie/files/GeneralMeetingMembersPack.zip
*Oliver Moran is chair of the 2nd Republic Group
(Posted by Jane Suiter)