Citizens’ Voices: Experiments in Democratic Renewal and Reform

Edited by Gemma M Carney and Clodagh Harris (co-convenors of the Participatory and Deliberative Democracy Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association of Ireland).

This review was compiled by Aoife Crummy, NUI Galway. Posted by Jane Suiter

This e-book emerges from a symposium, ‘Beyond the Ballot: diverse forms of civic engagement between democratic elections,’ held in Dublin in March 2012. Funded by the ‘New Ideas Grant’ from the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the PSAI, the e-book is a collection of short versions of the papers which were presented at the symposium.

In the opening chapter, learning to deliberate, by Jürg Steiner deliberation is rooted within good democratic practice in the home, and within a classroom setting. Steiner proposes that in the classroom, children should learn to listen to each other, justify and form arguments, while also being open to new arguments. Steiner’s paper elucidates how the implementation of such skills can lead to a better understanding of deliberation, thus leading to a more sophisticated and confident approach to civic participation in adulthood.

The G1000 summit in Belgium 2011 and the We the Citizens, pilot assembly are key examples within the e-book of how civic engagement and participation from various walks of life can induce not only a better understanding of political orientation but can also impact the development of policies. Such experiences have inspired new national deliberative initiatives for strengthening citizens’voices in the run-up to elections in Belgium, Oct 2012. Likewise, Farrell, O’Malley and Suiter’s (2012) paper on the ‘We The Citizens’ polling experiment demonstrates the capacity of citizens to make hard decisions, thereby casting doubts on Mair’s (2010) contention that deliberation will not work in an Irish context. Mary P. Murphy offers an open and honest account of building ‘Claiming Our Future’ as a movement to reaffirm the citizen’s voice in broad-based social and economic reform. The paper by McInerney and Carney argues that the practicalities of making deliberation count is still contested (Saurugger 2010), arguing that such disparities are evident within the Hunt Report (2010). Although the report envisages the university’s role in the educating for civic engagement, in reality it is more often evidenced in ‘pockets’ of university life.

The papers in this e-book successfully demonstrate the importance and need for participation and deliberation in democratic reform. Through these experiments it has become evident that sophisticated forms of deliberation can be developed not only in universities, but also within the roots of primary school education. Citizen events such as the G1000 and We the Citizens pilot Assembly display encouraging levels of civic engagement and deliberative participation. The editors hope that documenting these experiments in an open access publication may inspire similar summits and further deliberations in future.

The e-book can be downloaded at :
http://www.psai.ie/specialist/PSAI-ebook-citizens-voices.pdf
Bibliography

Mair, P. (2010). ‘Paradoxes and problems of modern Irish politics,’ paper presented to McGill Summer School: Reforming the Republic, July 2010.

Saurugger,S.(2010). The Social Construction of the participatory turn: The Emergence of a norm in the European Union. The European Journal of Political Research. 49, 471-495.

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4 thoughts on “Citizens’ Voices: Experiments in Democratic Renewal and Reform

  1. Not much news in English from the G1000.
    A group of 32 delegates was designated to draw up the most detailed propositions to be published in April 2012. It would be interesting to see the propositions en francais ou en anglais.

  2. It probably tells us all we need to know about the political science (sic!) fraternity (and sorority) in Ireland that so much effort is being devoted to possible citizen activities “Beyond the Ballot”. The immediate and pressing problems are at the ballot and in the polling booths. These include (1) voters being offered a choice of prospective TDs to act as mini-ombudspersons and constituency advocates who subsequently will elect a government but will fail to subject it to sufficient scrutiny, restraint or accountability, (2) voters being offered a choice of prospective local councillors who probably command the least amount of power and resources to decide on local matters of any of their counterparts in the EU, (3) voters being offered a choice of MEPs who do not elect the European Commission – the effective government of the EU in collaboration with the Council and (4) voters being required to decide in referendums on matters on which their TDs are unable or unwilling to decide (despite legitimately exercising the delegated ultimate authority of the people between general elections).

    But, of course, it would be far to difficult and challenging to address these issues – and, almost certainly, it would upset the ‘powers-that-be’. So it is not surprising that the IRCHSS (part of the expansive government apparatus) is prepared to fund worthy research of this nature, but which is totally irrelevant in the context of the challenges Ireland currently faces – or that Chuck Feeney is prepared to throw a fraction of his accumulated monopoly profits at some other activities “beyond the ballot”.

    It may be that Irish voters are perfectly happy with the choices being offered to them in the polling booths. But there seems to be sufficient evidence that an increasing number are not. In so far as they might give these issues some consideration, I suspect it would be difficult for many to come up with better alternatives. But that should not be their primary responsibility. They elect and pay politicians to provide democratic governance and they pay academics and researchers in matters of politics and goverance to educate, inform and enlighten them.

    It is a disgrace to observe the citizens of a country and an economy in a time of crisis being failed so dismally by their elected politicians and their public intellectuals.

    • “being failed so dismally by their elected politicians and their public intellectuals.”

      If this were true of public intellectuals, why
      1) have so many web-fora emerged since the crisis eg. this one, on the economy, on Ireland after NAMA, on human rights – all set up and driven by university-based people;
      2) have so many books been published on various aspects of a)how we govern ourselves, b) outcomes of political processes, c) accounts on both what happened and those involved?
      3) have new centres emerged which offer a focus for debate on how we govern ourselves eg TCD’s Policy Studies Institute which organises public lectures, the UCD Constitutional Studies Group which organised a seminar last week, and the UCD Centre for for Regulation and Governance, which is to launch a book on Irish Governance In Crisis edited by Niamh Hardiman on Tuesday next 10 July 2012 in Newman House, 85 St. Stephen’s Green (Living in Dublin, I am not familiar with similar initiatives outside the capital)?

      While you may not agree with the approaches being adopted, I suggest that your pouring such cold water on these efforts may not help stimulate research and discussion needed to develop options on how we actually reform our politics and institutions.

      Yes, we need robust debate. IMO, this work by the PSAI is helpful as yet more grist to the mills of re-imagining and re-engineering how we govern ourselves

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