The Citizens Assembly- Department of the Taoiseach
The Citizens’ Assembly was an exercise in deliberative democracy which placed the citizen at the heart of important legal and policy issues facing Irish society. 99 citizen members considered five distinct topics over 19-months. The five issues the Assembly was mandated to consider were:
- the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (which concerns abortion);
- how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population;
- how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change;
- the manner in which referenda are held; and
- fixed term parliaments.
Over 80 voted recommendations were made in four reports on the five topics. The reports were submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas for further debate by elected representatives.
The secretariat to the Assembly went to considerable efforts to ensure that all submissions and assembly proceedings were accessible to the members, and to the public more generally. Approximately 15,000 submissions were published on the Assembly website and all public sessions of the weekend Assembly meetings were live streamed and available on the website.
The engagement of, and the collaboration with, academics and professionals helped the Chair and the secretariat navigate complex and challenging issues.
The Assembly proved to be a very novel and innovative model of engaging citizens and the public. The outcome of the Assembly’s deliberations on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution saw the Assembly’s result almost exactly mirror that of the wider electorate in the subsequent Referendum (64% and 66% in favour respectively).
By operating on the principle of maximum openness and transparency; a repository of events and information was created, which continues to be accessible at www.citizensassembly.ie.