The Irish Citizens’ Assembly: yet another Irish mini-public on constitutional reform


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):

  1. the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution [relating to abortion];
  2. how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population;
  3. fixed term parliaments; and
  4. the manner in which referenda are held; and
  5. 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.

3 thoughts on “The Irish Citizens’ Assembly: yet another Irish mini-public on constitutional reform

  1. “Time will tell whether its critics are proven right” what if time is the issue that people are most critical about, ie that the assembly is method to delay action by politicians (and take the heat off them) how about you deal the criticism now rather then possibly just enable the governments calculations.

  2. The point is, once again, to give a centrist FG parliamentary party an excuse to pass centrist laws against the FG conservative base. It is not really to find out anything new. Last time, the trick didn’t work out all that well as the most conservative party (FF) and conservative independents replaced many FG TDs. The same will happen on the double if they try to pass abortion, which suggests they will wait until Martin’s feet are actually under the table, as opposed to running rings around it.

  3. Since neither the Government nor the Oireachtas has either the guts or gumption to tackle the 8th amendment using the existing democratic processes these 99 public-spirited citizens will be required to compensate for their cowardly and craven behaviour. The irony is that the vast majority of citizens are totally committed to the essential elements of the existing democratic process. As I have noted previously, whether by accident or design, a large number of voters in the last election addressed the problem of excessive executive dominance. (Whether the outcome is sustainable with, instead of a rotation of majority FF or FG-dominated governments, a rotation of minority FF or FG dominated governments (with the pseudo-left and hardish left groupuscules and individuals excluded) remains to be seen.

    As a result, there is no reason why the 8th amendment shouldn’t be addressed by the Oireachtas on its own terms. But the decision has been made and we can only hope that these 99 public-spirited citizens will be allowed to contribute some common sense. However, the assembly should be disbanded once they’ve completed the first task – or, at the very least, the citizens participating should be given the option of deciding to continue or to disband (or to amend the scope of further work) . The Government was really scraping the barrel when coming up with additional issues the assembly had to consider so as to project the optical illusion that its primary purpose was not to compensate for its cowardice. It really would be an unjustified imposition to require these citizens to keep turning up for most of a year to address these additional issues. It adds insult to these citizens (and potentially to all citizens since any citizen could have been selected) to the injury that is being done to the existing democratic processes.

    And governing politicians wonder why so many voters hold them in such contempt.

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