The Irish Citizens' Assembly
- General Issues
- Governance & Political Institutions
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- Time Limited or Repeated?
- Repeated over time
- Spectrum of Public Participation
- Total Number of Participants
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Limited to Only Some Groups or Individuals
- Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
- Facilitator Training
- Professional Facilitators
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
- Formal Testimony
- Ask & Answer Questions
- Information & Learning Resources
- Written Briefing Materials
- Expert Presentations
- Decision Methods
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- New Media
- Traditional Media
- Public Report
- Government of Ireland
- Type of Funder
- National Government
- Evidence of Impact
- Implementers of Change
- Lay Public
- Elected Public Officials
- Formal Evaluation
Established in 2016, the Citizens' Assembly is a permanent, deliberative body of 100 randomly selected citizens who collect public opinion, debate, and provide recommendations on the topics outlined in its founding documents and, later, by members of parliament and the public.
Problems and Purpose
Increasing citizen involvement in Ireland’s political decision-making has been the goal of academics and parliamentarians over the past decade. Initiatives like 2009’s We the Citizens and the 14-month long Irish Constitutional Convention from 2012-2014 inspired academics and elected representatives to advocate for the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly. Established by parliamentary resolution in 2016, the Assembly is a permanent, deliberative body of 100 randomly selected citizens who collect public opinion, debate, and provide recommendations on the topics outlined in its founding documents:
- The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution
- State response to an ageing population
- State action on climate change
- The manner of referenda
- The issue of fixed-term parliaments 
Background History and Context
Beginning in 2009, a group of academics sought to respond to public demand for more say in political decision-making by replicating the Citizens’ Assembly processes used in British Columbia, Canada. What followed were two initiatives: We the Citizens in 2009 and the Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC) in 2012. Following their success, the idea for a Citizens’ Assembly was endorsed and advocated by a number of elected representatives who had taken part in the 14-month Constitutional Convention. While only one of the ICC’s recommendations was taken up by the governing party at the time, their influence is seen in the 2016 ‘Programme for a Partnership Government’ published by the incoming Fine Gael–independent minority government in May 2016. For the first time, the Programme committed the parliament to the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly “without the participation by politicians” within six months. True to their word, the Irish Parliament introduced and passed the Resolution Approving Establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly in July 2016  and the body convened for the first time in October of the same year.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Irish Citizens Assembly was established through Parliamentary (Dáil Éireann) Resolution as an independent body with a Government-appointed Chairperson. The rules and procedures of the Assembly written and agreed up by all 99 members and Chairperson during the inaugural meeting.
The Resolution promises full Government support of the Assembly through funding (see below) and through the review and serious consideration of each meeting’s recommendations. A Committee of both Houses was established for the review of Assembly reports. While the Government is not legally required to accept the Assembly’s recommendations, it must provide a response to the legislature (Oireachtas Éireann). In the case of a recommendation’s approval, the Government must additionally provide a timeframe for the calling of a public referendum on the issue.
The Assembly is funded through a public tendering process. According to the Assembly’s website, various tasks required for the Assembly’s establishment and continued operation were posted to the ‘eTenders’ website. The following contracts were awarded:
- “RED C Research and Marketing Ltd were appointed on 22 August 2016 to provide a representative sample of 99 members of the public and substitutes for the Citizen's Assembly.
- The Grand Hotel, Malahide, was selected as the venue for the meetings of the Assembly.
- Richard Jolly TV Ltd/Switch New Media was selected to provide the filming/live broadcasting and streaming of the Assembly’s meetings.
- Q4PR was selected to provide media liaison services for the Assembly.
- Roomaxx Ltd was selected to provide facilitation and note-taking services for the Assembly.
- Beatrice.ie Translation & Tour Guiding Services was selected to provide translation services for the Assembly.” 
Other expenses such as salaries, office administration, and the reimbursement of costs incurred while attending meetings are paid by the Government.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Chairperson of the Assembly is selected by the Government but only votes in the case of a draw. The position has been held by former Supreme Court Judge Mary Laffoy since the Assembly’s establishment. The initial 99 members of the assembly were selected by REDC Research and Marketing Ltd. which was contracted through a public tender issued by the Government. According to the Assembly’s website, REDC recruited “across 15 broad regional areas throughout the country...The Members were chosen at random and are broadly representative of demographic variables as reflected in the Census. The quotas each interviewer had to reach in their allocated District Electoral Division (DED) were based on a number of demographic variables – gender, age and social class*.” The Government decided that direct applications for Membership “were and are not accepted.” Furthermore, potential participants identified through the recruitment process were subject to screening through a recruitment questionnaire and an interview with the REDC team. Participants who “currently were, had been, or intended to act in an advocacy role for any interest or lobby group campaigning on any of the issues to be considered by the Assembly” were excluded. Such exclusion did not and does not, however, extend to those “who have previously expressed views on any of the issues before the Assembly.”
Since its inaugural meeting in October 2016, the Assembly has seen the replacement of 53 members. Twenty of the new recruits were identified as willing participants during the initial selection process while the others were chosen later by REDC through random selection in accordance with demographic quotas.
According to the founding Resolution, “an Expert Advisory Group will be established to assist the work of the Assembly in terms of preparing information and advice.” The composition of the Group is thus changed depending on the topic or issue under consideration by the Assembly. One of the Group’s main tasks is to select individuals for inclusion in the Steering Group and to present to or engage in a Q&A with the Assembly on the issue under consideration.
The Steering Group is comprised of the Chairperson and a representative group of Assembly members elected by the Assembly and is supported by the Assembly secretariat. According to the Assembly’s Rules and Procedures, the Steering Group “should comprise 6 citizen members and the Chairperson”, however the current (05/30/2018) Group totals 12 members. Selection of candidates for election to the Group is dependent on the following requirements:
- “Each member of the Steering Group should be available to meet in Dublin at least one evening per month, for approx. 2 hours.
- Members of the groups should also be available to deal (by e-mail, phone call etc.) on an ad hoc basis with issues as they arise during the run-up to Assembly weekends.”
Members of the public and stakeholder or advocacy groups -- including Irish citizens and non-citizens; those living in Ireland or abroad -- are encouraged to submit opinions, ideas, and recommendations to the Assembly on the official website or through the post. Submissions are open to all regardless of age and must be signed with the full name of the individual (anonymous submissions or submissions with initials are not accepted).
Attendance as an observer of Assembly meetings is restricted to “Advocacy Groups, Non Governmental Organisations and Religious groups, Embassies, Political parties, Academics, [and] Social Partners.” Those wishing to attend must submit a formal application by email or post and are selected by the Secretariat after careful consideration. However, other members of the public can view every meeting via livestream on the Assembly’s official webpage and YouTube channel. Each livestream is made available indefinitely.
Individuals such as experts or specialists are often called upon to present on the topic under consideration by the Assembly. These individual are recommended by the Expert Advisory Group and their invitation is subject to the agreement of the Assembly. The Expert Advisory Group is mandated to consider the following criteria when identifying suitable individuals:
- “Demonstrated expertise in the field, e.g. university academics, members of the legal or medical profession or other subject specialists;
- Good communicators, capable of expressing themselves clearly to a diverse audience;
- People who are not seen primarily as advocates on one side or another of the issue at hand;
- In the case of issues where expert views are contested (i.e. where experts can make credible arguments that directly conflict with one another,) the Expert Advisory Group will ensure that both sides of the argument will be represented.”
Methods and Tools Used
The Irish Citizens’ Assembly was structured to follow roughly the same methodology as that used in British Columbia to deliberate the Provincial voting procedures. Most Citizens’ Assemblies are not standing bodies but are called or formed on an ad hoc basis to deliberate and provide recommendations on various public policy issues. (Because the Irish Citizens' Assembly is a standing body, the participatory methods and tools used in its internal management are covered in its Participedia organization entry.) However, like their ad hoc counterparts, the Irish Citizens’ Assembly follows a general procedure when considering each issue or topic brought before it. For each topic or issue under consideration by the Assembly, a series of meetings may consist of:
- “Introductory remarks by the Chairperson
- Expert presentations
- Presentations from civil society and advocacy groups
- Consideration of submissions by Members of the public
- Question and Answer Sessions and Debates
- Roundtable discussions”
The number and frequency of meetings is decided by the Chair and is subject to change seemingly at any time during the process although extensions are subject to approval by the Legislature. The differences in the number and frequency of meetings and meeting events is dependent on several factors such as the availability of guests, the number of public submissions, and the time needed by Members to adequately deliberate and decide on the issue(s).
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Irish Citizens’ Assembly was established to give citizens more say in government decisions and to increase and encourage the participation of all members of Irish society in the public sphere. The commitment to inclusive participation and deliberation is reflected in the Assembly’s Key Principles: openness, fairness, equality of voice, efficiency, respect, and collegiality.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
In April 2018, the Assembly met to discuss its last pre-determined issue: fixed term parliament. Of the five topics considered by the Assembly, the issues of the 8th Amendment (abortion) has recieved the most amount of international press coverage due to 1) the results - which were, at the time, seen by many as surprising, and 2) the recent referendum over which the Assembly's recommendations appear to have had an influence. Importantly, the first Citizens' Assembly had two major effects: first, it allowed politicians to understand public opinion on the issue before committing to a referendum and a binding legislative decision. Fine Gael - the ruling party since 2011 - has supported the Citizens' Assembly from its beginnings and so took seriously its recommendations. It was not a coincidence that the legislative decision following the referendum was the same as that forwarded by the Citizens' Assembly a year earlier. As well, by treating the Assembly's decision as representative of wider public opinion, Fine Gael was able to pre-emptively support the amendment's repeal. The party was congratulated later for both its use of deliberative consultation in the legislative process and for supporting policy that is supported by the public as opposed to minority opinion. Indeed, following the referendum, David Farrell, University College Dublin professor of politics, remarked that the Assembly "proved invaluable in acquainting the political classes with the fact that the Irish public had become much more liberal in recent decades."
On the other side, opposition party members and anti-aborition activists largely dismissed the Assembly's findings and attempted to undermine its credibility. The "No" vote ('no' to a repeal of the 8th Amendment which criminalizes abortion) pursued a campaign of graphic imagery and religious reasoning to try and sway voters. According to Ronan McGreevy in the Irish Times, "The No campaign’s criticisms of the assembly were a serious mistake. If it had listened, they would have realised that the majority were repelled by the use of images of the unborn, and unmoved by religious arguments. Ireland had a problem with abortion. Solutions were needed."
Second, the Citizens' Assembly appears to have been welcomed by the majority of the population as a fair and reliable process of public consultation. Despite denouncements by anti-abortion activists and some opposition party members - such as calling the process "rigged" and "unrepresentative" - the public seems to have had faith in the Assembly as both a publicly-representative body and as a source of unbiased information and advice.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Want to contribute an analysis of this initiative? Help us complete this section!
 Lyn Carson, "Integrating Citizen Deliberation into National Decisions: Ireland's Prime Minister's Office,"The newDemocracy Foundation, https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/research/research-notes/411-integrating-citizen-deliberation-into-national-decisions
 The Citizens' Assembly, "About the Citizens' Assembly", https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/
 Dáil Éireann, “Programme for a Partnership Government,” May 2016, https://merrionstreet.ie/MerrionStreet/en/ImageLibrary/Programme_for_Partnership_Government.pdf
 Dáil Éireann, “Resolution Approving Establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly,” July 2016, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Resolution.pdf
 “Procurement and Costs,” The Citizens’ Assembly, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Background/Procurement-and-Costs/
 “Rules & Procedures,” The Citizens’ Assembly, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Background/Rules-Procedures
 “Who are the Members,” The Citizens’ Assembly, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Who-are-the-Members/
 “Meetings,” The Citizens’ Assembly, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Background/Meetings/
 “Key Principles for the Assembly,” The Citizens’ Assembly, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Background/Key-Principles-for-the-Assembly/
 “Expert Advisory Group Terms of Reference,” The Citizens’ Assembly, Dec 2017, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Background/Expert-Advisory-Group/EAG-December-2017.pdf
 “Steering Group Terms of Reference,” The Citizens’ Assembly, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Background/Steering-Group/Steering-Group-Terms-of-Reference.pdf
 “Publication of Submissions on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution,” The Citizens’ Assembly, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/Submissions/Eighth-Amendment-of-the-Constitution/
 “Observers,” The Citizens’ Assembly, https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Background/Attending-the-Assembly-as-an-Observer/
 “The Citizens’ Assembly,” YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2DgyetL9aUTMry_F9B9yUw/featured?disable_polymer=1
 Rónán Duffy, "Analysis: Six reasons why Ireland was a landslide Yes for repeal," The Journal.ie, May 26, 2018, https://www.thejournal.ie/reason-ireland-yes-repeal-4034286-May2018/
 Ronan McGreevy, "The Citizens’ Assembly – a canny move on the road to repeal," The Irish Times, May 27, 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/the-citizens-assembly-a-canny-move-on-the-road-to-repeal-1.3510373
 Ronan McGreevy, "‘When I heard the result I thought, Wow, I’m partially responsible for this’," The Irish Times, May 27, 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/when-i-heard-the-result-i-thought-wow-i-m-partially-responsible-for-this-1.3510611
Official Website: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/Home/
Official Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2DgyetL9aUTMry_F9B9yUw
* A detailed breakdown of socioeconomic variables can be found here: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Who-are-the-Members/
Lead Image: Pro-choice Citizens Assembly http://tinyurl.com/y3g63ebs