The inaugural meeting of the new Irish Citizens’ Assembly was held in Dublin Castle last Saturday. Its establishment and the fact that it follows in the wake of the 2012-14 Constitutional Convention marks Ireland out as a world first in the repeated use of a ‘mini-public’ (deliberative) approach to constitutional review, an approach that includes citizens at the heart of the process.
The Irish Citizens’ Assembly (CA) consists of 100 members, 99 of these selected at random by the Red C polling company, the 100th member – Supreme Court Justice Laffoy – appointed by government. The Oireachtas resolution establishing the CA sets out its agenda as follows (the following is quoted verbatim):
- the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution [relating to abortion];
- how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population;
- fixed term parliaments; and
- the manner in which referenda are held; and
- how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change
The resolution allows for the possibility that the CA may be given other issues to consider. It has been given one year to complete its work overall, with the clear instruction that it deal with the first topic – abortion – first. Once the CA delivers it recommendations on this first topic the matter will then be discussed by a joint committee of the Oireachtas. The CA has indicated that it anticipates spending four weekends discussing this first topic, thus taking the matter beyond the Christmas break.
Just like its predecessor mini-public (the constitutional convention) the establishment of this CA has not been without criticism. Time will tell whether its critics are proven right.