Posted by Elaine Byrne
The editors of this website, Elaine Byrne, David Farrell, Eoin O’Malley, Jane Suiter and Matt Wall, published an opinion piece in the Irish Times today arguing that the path to rebuilding a Republic should start with a citizens’ assembly. So what is it?
A Citizens’ Assembly is a means of citizens recapturing trust in their political process by taking ownership of the decision making process. It is an experiment that has had terrific results in many parts of the world. The strengths and shortcomings of this deliberative process were discussed on this site here and the recent Icelandic case here. Prof Ken Carty gave a recent presentationin Trinity outlining a practical example of a citizens’ assembly in action.
It involves rational, reasoned discussion with a cross- section of an entire population and uses various methods of inquiry such as directly questioning experts. It is not adversarial, although disagreement is inevitable and is valued, not stifled. A Citizens’ Assembly values creativity and tends to build consensus rather than creating winning and losing sides – but there is no requirement of unanimity. Deliberative processes are not meant to replace representative or direct democracy, but to enhance and support it.
Examples/sources of information
The Center for the Study of Democracy in UC Irvine California
Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, British Columbia Canada 2004
The Center for Deliberative Democracy, Stanford University
A report for the Power Inquiry UK 2005 Smith G., Power beyond the ballot 57 democratic innovations from around the world