From Clodagh Harris
Research shows that people have ‘become more and more disenchanted with the traditional institutions of representative government, detached from political parties, and disillusioned with old forms of civic engagement and participation’ (Yetano, Royo and Acrete, 2010: 783).
In response, in recent years there has been growing interest not only in increasing participation, but also in the quality and form of the engagement between citizens through the use of direct, deliberative and participatory democratic mechanisms (Smith, 2009). It is argued that if the decision-making process is inclusive and dialogue between citizens is unconstrained, it will lead to greater understandings of different perspectives, more informed debate and decisions that are widely accepted by participants (Fishkin, 2009).
As part of their course work, the students of GV4404 ‘theories and origins of democracy and ideology’, a final year module offered on UCC’s B.Sc Government, the B.Comm and the B. Comm (international) programmes prepared a report on democratic innovations for engaging and empowering citizens. This report makes recommendations on how to boost public involvement in the political process. It examines specific democratic innovations, referring to international examples and presents them as viable and realistic options for Irish democracy. These recommendations which include participatory budgeting, citizens’ assemblies, consensus conferences, citizens’ juries and direct initiatives offer opportunities for wider and deeper citizen engagement in the democratic process at a time of general citizen distrust of political players and institutions. For example, a recent Eurobarometer poll showed that only 32% of EU citizens expressed trust in their Government and 33%in their Parliament. In Ireland these figures are 42% and 39% respectively (Eurobarometer 75).
This citizen disenchantment with and detachment from the traditional institutions of representative government has contributed to academic and wider public debates about whether or not the Irish political system is fit for purpose. Concerns about democratic accountability, participation, representation, to name but a few, have been raised in the Democracy Commission report (2005) and more recently on the PSAI (Political Studies Association of Ireland) politicalreform.ie blog, and ideas for the reform of the Irish political system featured in all of the parties’ manifestos in the 2011 general election.
It is hoped that this report will not only serve as a useful teaching tool for future students but that it will also contribute to the ongoing academic and public debate on Irish political reform.
Please click here for the report : http://www.ucc.ie/en/government/DemocraticReport.pdf
This report was funded by the President’s award for innovation in teaching and learning and edited by Dr. Clodagh Harris, recipient of the award.