What’s the Story with ‘The Citizen’s Assembly’?

The Citizen’s Assembly is tasked with deliberating a range of issues facing Irish society today. Since October 2016, they have met four times to deliberate the first item on their agenda, the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The Assembly is made up of ninety-nine registered citizens (the lads in the pic above), chosen randomly to fairly represent the Irish electorate. It is meant to be independent of the government- there are no politicians among the group. The members deliberate under chairperson Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, who was elected to the position by the government.

Soooo basically a load of randomers are thrown into a room to decide recommendations to give to the government. It’s a way for the government to kick the can down the road a bit on their decision on when to hold the referendum on the 8th Amendment.

endakenny         Enda ya cheeky bollocks

The general public were given the opportunity to make personal submissions to the Assembly (the deadline for which has now come and gone). At the discretion of the chairperson, special interest groups are also allowed to present to the assembly. The group is also informed by an expert advisory group on details of the Eighth Amendment and its ramifications. During the last three meetings, a wide range of medical experts and practitioners have presented papers, you can read them all on the Assembly’s website.

The Assembly must finish their report on the issue of the Eighth Amendment before they are allowed to move on to the other issues they have been asked to consider (these include: how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population; fixed term parliaments; the manner in which referenda are held and how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change). Their report will be to the Houses of the Oireachtas and each aspect will be deliberated and debated. If the Assembly recommends that the Constitution be amended and the government accepts this, they will announce a timeframe for the referendum to the public.

There has been some criticism of the Citizen’s Assembly. Some people have pointed out that the Assembly could exclude the viewpoint of those unable to afford time off work to attend meetings. Others think that the creation of a Citizen’s Assembly in the first place is a way for the government to stall on making a decision about the Eighth Amendment, which they would argue is well overdue. On the other hand, the Assembly could be viewed as an exercise in democracy, it offers a platform for everyone’s voice to be heard. At their latest meeting, members read over a selection from the 13,500 submissions that were sent in by the public.

By Alice Quinn Banville.

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