The Assembly met across five weekends to deliberate the country’s 8th Constitutional Amendment which defends the right to life. The Assembly’s recommendations by majority vote were essentially to repeal or replace the amendment.
Problems and Purpose
Established by Parliamentary Resolution in 2016, the 100-member Irish Citizens' Assembly is an experiment in deliberative democracy intended to increase citizen participation in government decisions. Being an issue of public debate and controversy since its adoption in 1983, the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution was chosen by Parliament to be the first topic of consideration by the Assembly. The Assembly provided a forum for a demographically-representative group of citizens to review the issue and draft a set of recommendations for consideration by the Parliament.
Background History and Context
The Irish Citizens’ Assembly’s Consideration of the Eighth Amendment was the first use of the Assembly as a consultative body.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Of the five topics considered by the Assembly, the issues of the 8th Amendment (abortion) has received 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 preemptively 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-abortion 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
 The Citizens' Assembly, "About the Citizens' Assembly", https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/what-we-do/
 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...
 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-resu...
Official Website https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/