Citizens’ Assemblies and Political Reform

Citizens’ Assemblies and Political Reform

Speaker: Prof. Kenneth Carty, University of British Columbia, Canada

Date: Monday 18 October 2010 – 6 to 8 pm

Venue: Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution has just recommended that Ireland create a Citizens’ Assembly to consider electoral reform. But what are Citizens’ Assemblies? How do they work? And can ordinary citizens really be expected to deal with the question of deciding what kind of electoral system a country needs?

The Policy Institute at Trinity College Dublin is delighted to invite you to a talk by Professor Kenneth Carty who was the Director of Research for the world’s first Citizen Assembly on Electoral Reform held in British Columbia, Canada. In this talk Prof Carty will answer our questions about Citizens’ Assemblies and explore what previous experience teaches us. Carty will also investigate what happens when citizens rather than politicians are charged with sorting out big questions about how a society ought to organize its political affairs.

For additional details please visit

There is no charge to attend this seminar, however as places are limited advance booking is essential. To register please contact:

Helen Murray
Policy Institute, Trinity College Dublin
1 College Green, Room 5.02
Dublin 2, Ireland

Phone: +353 1 869 3486
Fax: +353 1 677 0546

12 thoughts on “Citizens’ Assemblies and Political Reform

  1. @Elaine.
    Thanks for letting us know about this.
    As I plan to attend, I hope to learn the extent to which Citizen Assemblies
    1) differ from focus groups used by political parties for assessing the mood of the public;
    2) fit with Swisss-style citizens’ initiative or any other such form, now thatthe EU has adopted (a limited form) citizens’ initiative following the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

  2. Hi Donal,

    Good to hear you are coming along. Prof Carty will have very comprehensive answers to those questions. The Citizens’ Assembly is potentially a very exciting form of meaningful engagement and participation by citizens in their democracy. I’m in the process of teaching my students about this and it is great to have the opportunity to look at the positive attributes of democracy.

    I see this as a means of demonstrating how citizens can recapture trust in their political process and take ownership of the decision making process. A revolution (of sorts!)

    In the meantime, check out the Canada experience

  3. But we have a Citizens’ Assembly already. It’s called the Dail. This is where the citizens to whom all citizens delegate their ultimate power and authority exercise this powwr and authority. That it is overwhelmed by extreme executive dominance and rendered powerless by the ‘tyranny of faction’ are the problems that need to be addressed. ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ are interesting diversions – and, I suppose, they keep the academics occupied.

    • Go to the meeting Paul! The point of a citizens’ assembly is to make passive voters engaged citizens. It is a means of addressing a perceived democratic deficit by creating a context for collective decision making which seeks to promote long term rather than short term solution.

      It keeps citizens, as well as academics (who incidentally are also citizens) happy.

  4. @Elaine
    Looking forward to it.

    “trust in their political process”
    Arab proverb says – Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.

    “take ownership of the decision making process.”
    IMO, under our constitution, we do own the power of the state, which we delegate to TDs, who then nominate a Taoiseach (whom the President formally appoints) who then picks another group from the TDs that support him/her (in practice – I am aware of the Seanad possibility) to become Ministers who form the Government. The Government is in effect a sub-committee of the Dáil which then dominates the Dáil completely, until the next election the date of which is largely under the control of the the Taoiseach.

    I am attracted to Swiss-style Citizens’ Initiative as it seems to offer citizens the possibility of asserting their ownership of the decision-making process at any stage, on any issue which the established governing institutions must deal with in a formal way within specified time periods.

    I look forward to learning how Citizens’ Assemblies offer similar or complimentary or better options as part of the checks and balances that we need to have at our disposal in order to – let me say – keep a certain pressure those to whom we delegate our power.

    Checks & Balances = tying the camel!

  5. @Elaine Byrne,

    No intention to cause offence – just, perhaps, a hint of frustration and edginess creeping in.

    Ireland agreed to pool its monetary sovereignty when it joined the Euro. The sensible appointment of Professor Honohan and Matthew Elderfield means that the bank supervisory and financial regulation powers are finally being exeercised as they should have been for the last decade. But any resolution of the Irish banking system will be conducted at an EU-wide level and will need the – difficult-to-secure – political buy-in of the major Eurozone countries.

    Ireland has also lost its fiscal sovereignty as Brussels is dictating the terms of the 4-year fiscal adjustment programme. The Government should be able to whip this and the budget through the Dail, but the next major hurdle (sometime next spring) is when the MTMA is forced to re-enter the sovereign bond market. Even though the institutional EU will strain every sinew to prevent it, if the NTMA is shut out the next step is the EFSF and, very likely, the IMF. That will be the end of Ireland’s monetary, fiscal and economic sovereignty for, at least, a four year period.

    If the Government falls before the NTMA re-enters the market, the likely alternative combination of factions will generate an additional premium on the sovereign cost of funds and this will force the entry of the EFSF and IMF.

    This is what Ireland is facing and re-arranging the deckchairs – or putting out more deckchairs for a citizens’ assembly – probably won’t help very much. The focus has to be on the weakness of the Oireachtas, extreme executive dominance and the dysfuntional factionalism that created this mess.

  6. I keep getting a ‘Call failed’ when calling the Institute looking to enquire about remaining seats for tonight… can anyone let me know?

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