Constitutional Convention looks to include a citizen assembly

It is great to see that the Government is making good on its word to establish a Constitutional Convention, see report here. There are many parts of the 1937 Constitution which should be looked at from a political reform perspective. Some of these including reducing the voting age, allowing gay marriage and abolishing the Seanad are in the Programme for Government and are thus likely to form a major plank of the initiative despite there being other initiatives which some regular posters on here may like to see. It is also heartening to see that there is a proposal for some type of citizen assembly at the heart of the proposal. There is obviously much to be worked out with the Taoiseach indicating that he will now consult with Opposition leaders, the correct move given the central importance of the Constitution to the workings of our democracy. What will be important is how the assembly is constituted, what the rules of engagement are and as politicians are to be involved how citizens can be facilitated to ensure that they have a real input and are not simply a Greek chorus to the rhetoric of the professional politicians.

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15 thoughts on “Constitutional Convention looks to include a citizen assembly

  1. How the Convention will be constituted, the balance of relationships in it, and what powers it will have (or be given) will be of utmost importance. But so too are the questions the Convention will deliberate. On that front, there are signs we should be worried before it has even begun.

    The abolish of the Seanad has repeatedly and categoratlly been stated by the Taoiseach to something that will be outside of the Conventions deliberations. Meanwhile, the term limit of the President is said to be something that it will deliberate.

    So, while the the Constitutional Convention will deliberate whether the President should serve five years or seven, the question of reform or otherwise of the Seanad is something that is not up for discussion? Instead, the People will simply be asked whether to abolish it or not – no discussion of alternatives. Now, that’s a bad sign before anything has even begun. Similarly, surely the more important questions are those that ask, not how long the President serves, but what does the President do?

    Obviously, half a loaf is better than no bread. But why do we always have to do things half arsed?

  2. I expect we’ll just to wait and see, but It’s useful to keep tabs on what’s being spun to the journos who have to be uncritical and regurgitate what they’ve been told if they wish to retain access to those who lord over us.

    The term a ‘damp squib’ has become hackneyed from overuse. We need a term to convey the sense of something totally sodden but that projects the optical illusion of being capable of ignition without any possibility whatsoever of this happening.

  3. @Paul
    Why should we just have “to wait and see”?

    Is it not the people’s constitution that the Constitutional Review Convention will be examining?

    The Constitutional Review Convention should be a totally open process even in the period preceding its launch.

    It is offensive to the spirit of deliberative democracy that the Dáil Opposition groups are being consulted behind closed doors so that the convention’s structure may be presented by Cabinet as a fait accompli to the people with the veneer of cross-party approval.

    When have the people ever been consulted on the
    Constitutional Review Convention?

    The odd strucutre of 30 lawyers 30 random citizens and 30 politicians arbitrarily laid down by the Labour Party looks set to proceed without explanation.

    Ok there may be a citizens’ assembly subsection and a wandering consultative process like the Forum for Europe.

    The Taoiseach’s office will then deliberate (or secure deliberatrions) on the Convention’s report and present draft amendments to the top seats at Cabinet.

    The Dáil will then dutifully pass and present the Cabinet’s constitutional anmmendments to a referendum.

    Not much actual change here.

  4. @Rodge
    I don’t think Noel Whelan needed much information as his article was speculation and castigation.
    However the coverage in the press since seems to be mainly quoting form press releases with no analysis.
    Perhaps the convention has caught the journos unawae or else they have nothing to say.

    • That government press release confirms my long-held scepticism regarding the Government’s commitment to holding a constitutional convention or citizens’ assembly worthy of either name.

      It will only discuss predetermined topics. How long will it take to discuss the length of the President’s term of office?

      There will be no participation by interest groups, such as 2nd Republic, who have campaigned for it, except through written submission.

      In effect, it will be a damp squib, incapable of generating any serious change.

    • Citizen participation has been upped to quite generous levels but to compensate the government seem determined to restrict the terms of reference to nothing more than the limited programme for government reform proposals. So apart from some social reforms (some possibly divisive), and a look at the electoral system (which will never get anywhere anywhere), we’ll be left with some tinkering with the presidency (terms and emigrant votes) and a year off of the electoral age. I too wonder how the 100 participants will manage fill their year with such a programme. Hope they’re good at crosswords! :) Almost makes me wish the government had opted for a third citizens, a third government affiliated lawyers and experts and a third politicians. They might then have expanded the terms of reference a bit further (knowing their buddies wouldn’t propose anything too drastic), and we might have at least gotten a collection of low level, undramatic, uncontroversial but perhaps useful constitutional reforms. The current proposal seems so restrictive as to be almost pointless (regardless of the convention’s composition) except as a box ticking exercise. Why not just get a couple of lawyers to draft the relevant amendments over the course of a weekend and be done with it? Why bother with a year-long 100-person rigmarole if it’s going to be curtailed so severely? Though perhaps one might hope that some of the opposition TDs and participating citizens may make common cause, bite back against the bit, and get up to a spot of mischief.

      • Careful, Finbar, or you’ll join me on the ‘naughty step’ for being negative, dismissive and cynical. This is a bit like doing an historical ‘what if’ exercise and wondering what would have happened if Charles I had actively encouraged Parliament to restrain his exercise of his perceived ‘divine right to rule’. It would be a totally futile exercise, because it didn’t happen and it couldn’t have happened. Parliament had to enforce its primacy through a civil war to the point of sanctioning the execution of the King.

        This Constitutional Convention exercise requires an even greater suspension of disbelief. I just can’t see why anyone would waste their time given it even the slightest bit of consideration.

  5. What is the logic of interest groups participating in the Constitutional Convention?
    By interest groups read IBEC, ISME, ICTU, GAA and a myriad of other smaller interest groups. We are well rid of them since they all have their eyes on some part of the public pie.
    Correct me if I am wrong but based on their website don’t 2nd Republic only have one item on their agenda i.e. a real Constitutional Convention Citizens Assembly which sends its amendments to the people? What could they say if they were on the Convention except – “This has not been set up in the right way!”

  6. There is nothing in the terms of reference issued that focuses the work of this Constitutional Convention on considering checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful – be they public or private, elected or appoints.

    IMO, this makes the convention a waste of money, brains and time ie. a wombat.

    For an outsider’s view of how things are done here, consider Maarten van Eden’ s comments after less than a year in Anglo-Irish
    ““Apart from the recklessness, overconfidence and the total lack of professionalism, one sees clearly a lack of checks and balances not only within Anglo but within the country/ system as a whole,”
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2011/0905/1224303500416.html

    The terms of reference for this convention are fit in with the late John Kelly’s 1986 observation “Ireland’s political and official rulers have largely behaved like a crew of maintenance engineers, just keeping a lot of old British structures and plant ticking over”
    John Kelly was the author of a standard reference book on our 1937 constitution (still in print with additional editors). He was Professor of Constitutional law, Roman law and Jurisprudence in UCD,a FG TD, Attorney General and Minister.

    • Donal,

      It appears you’ve been silent for a while – and you’ve been missed. Couln’t agree more with what you’ve written, but how do we encourage those who have the power and ability to do some small sensible things to do them?

      On a slightly different tack, the stand that Eamon O’Cuiv has taken is interesting. I’m sure there are all sorts of interests, issues and motivations behind this, but the fact that a TD, as a TD, takes issue with the ‘received wisdom’ is salutary. But the media take is also informative. The focus is very much on how Michael Martin can hand-off this tackle to give himself momentum rather than on the issues raised which deserve a full thrashing out in public.

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