The Irish citizens assembly of 2016 examined several key issues facing Ireland. Held over two weekends, the assembly examined and deliberated how Ireland would best deal with the challenges and opportunities presented by Ireland’s ageing population.
Problems and Purpose
Citizen’s assemblies are intended to maximise citizen involvement in the political process by having citizens meet to learn about, discuss, ideate and propose ideas around political issues. In this case, the Irish citizens assembly of 2016 turned its attention to discussing the challenges and opportunities of an aging population for the ROI.
Background History and Context
Ireland had its first formal experiment in 2012 with a constitutional convention, consisting of a group of randomly selected adult citizens, representatives from parties and elected representatives from the Irish legislature, who met in order to discuss changes to the Irish constitution . This established a precedent for the creation of citizen assemblies to help settle major political questions .
In 2016 Ireland formed a citizens assembly consisting of 99 citizens demographically representative of the population eligible to vote in referendums, and a tiebreaking chair, who were tasked of suggesting recommendations for the Irish parliament on an issue parliament asked them to consider . The government committed to establishing the assembly in a white paper titled ‘ A program for Partnership government’. Members sat on in the assembly indefinitely and if chose to leave were replaced by a person meeting their demographic criteria. The second formal meeting they held was to discuss the impact of Ireland’s aging population. It dissolved in 2018 and has been replaced by new assembly following the same rules and procedures.
This issue was chosen because, like most European countries, Ireland’s population is aging due to rising life expectance and falling fertility rates. This will have substantial effects on society and is therefore a key political issue that will have substantial ramifications for the entire population.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The process was organised and run by the Irish government, the Parliament of which created the process via legislation. It is entirely funded by the Irish government. A chair was selected from the Irish judiciary.
The following private entities were contracted with operation of various functions;
RED C Research and Marketing Ltd; provided the sample of citizens
The Grand Hotel, Malahide; served as the venue for the CA
Richard Jolly TV Ltd/Switch New Media; recorded and broadcasting of the meetings of the CA
Q4PR; provided media liaison services
Roomaxx Ltd ; facilitation and note taking services
Beatrice.ie Translation & Tour Guiding Services; translation
Participant Recruitment and Selection
RED C RESEARCH AND MARKETING Ltd was contracted to provide a representative sample of the Irish electorate. The 99 members were chosen from the electoral register at random from a series of geographic District Electoral Divisions of Ireland, thought the interviewers who carried out the participant selected had to reach quotas from each region for gender, age and class. Between each meeting of the CA members withdrew; the contractor selected new members with similar demographic characteristics, with 31 replacements being made before the 2nd sitting .
Members were reimbursed for costs incurred for attending the meetings including childcare. 
The 100th member of the process was the chairperson. This role was intended to be given to a neutral public figure. In this CA, the chair was the Honourable Mary Lifford, a former lawyer and supreme court judge .
The Steering committee
The Chair and 6 members of the representatives met monthly, to assist in planning and operational issues that may face the CA. They met across the entirety of the CA, as well as during the 2nd sitting .
The advisory group
Each round of the CA had an advisory group. This group was tasked with ensuring that the discussion and work program was fair and balance, to bring in background expert advice on the issues being discussed, assisting in the selection of outside experts for the Assembly and assisting in the selection of outside speakers from civil society ad advocacy groups. For the 2nd round, the advisory group consisted of experts in social and political science, health policy and Gerontology, participation of the elderly in social and economic aspects, legal issues including elder abuse and neglect and social work and justice. The advisory group consisted of Processor Anna Davies, Dr Margert Desmond, John Garry, Dr Áine Ryall, Professor Peter Thorne and Dr Diarmuid Torney. 
A number of external speakers, from academia and civil society, were invited to lecture participants on the issues at hand during the meetings. During the first meeting of the 2nd sitting, 7 outside speakers were invited.  8 external speakers were invited to speak at the second meeting of the 2nd sitting. They were experts in and spoke on the subject of pensions. 
Speakers were not paid for attending, though they were allowed to claim travel expenses .
Members of the public were not allowed to attend, with public access being provided by webcast. Representatives of advocacy groups, Embassies, Political parties, Academics and Social Partners were allowed to attend as observers, though they were barred from speaking .
Methods and Tools Used
Several methods and tools were used as part of this citizens assembly.
Education and expert presentation
In order to better facilitate later debate, a series of experts and people with life experiences were invited to speak on the issue of an ageing population.  . This ensured that during the discussion section the participants had a much better grasp of the issues at hand, as well as more emotional empathy with those who would be affected by the policies. There was a section in which members of the CA were able to ask questions to the experts on the issues at had , which ensured that all members were left with no issues.
Members of the public, invited to share their thoughts on how to best respond to the challenge of an aging population; they were required to be made in advance. 129 were submitted . This ensured that ideas and suggestions from those outside of the meeting could be listen to, widening the scope for suggestions about the issues at hand. This was also a space in which non-citizens and even non-Irish could submit recommendations, making the scope for suggestions and ideas extremely wide.
Deliberation and small group discussion
There was a phase of small-group facilitated discussion, with expert facilitations at each table. This was to discuss the issue at hand, before feeding back their decisions to the chair. This ensured that there was comprehensive dialogue about and analysis of the issues at hand. It also was a space in which ideas could be proposed to the chair.
Decisions of what to include in the final proposal were made by secret ballot. This ensured that everyone had a say in the final decision and wouldn’t be pressured by the public nature of their vote.
What Went On: Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
The 2nd session of the Citizens assembly took place over 2 meetings. The first was held on the 10-11th of June  and the second on the 8-9th of July . Both had a similar form.
The first phase of the process was the opening of the process to submissions on ‘how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population’. This was opening between April 3rd and May 19th of 2017 online and by post – anyone, including people neither citizens nor residents in Ireland could make submissions. 129 submissions were received of which 7 were unsuitable and not published by the CA . These were discussed during the various discussion sessions.
The first meeting   opened by a brief speech by the chair. Two external speakers then spoke on the demographic shift and the experience of aging followed by a half hour of small group discussions. The group then broke for lunch. After lunch, there were another four talks, including those by elderly people and their carers, focused on supporting elderly people with independent living, which was followed by forty minutes of discussion, and then a question and answer session, alongside a feedback to the collective group by each roundtable.
The next day saw another welcome speech by the chair, followed by a talk on funding care. After this came another roundtable discussion, another question and answer session and a feedback to the whole group from the discussion. After a break, each roundtable brainstormed issues to be covered at the second meeting and then fed this back group at the final session.
The second meeting   opened again with a statement by the chair. Three expert speeches were first given on the subject of pension followed by table discussions and a question and answer session. This was followed by a lunch break. After this two more sessions were held, with a question and answer session after each. There was then another talk, followed by discussion session, and then another Q and A session. The day then ended.
The next day after a speech from the chair, draft ballot papers for the proposals were sent around. After a discussion session on their tables, the group voted on the proposals. The ballots were then counted, whilst preparations for the next session of the CA, on climate change, was discussed. The results were then announced, and the chair made a set of concluding remarks.
All of the process was broadcast online, aside from the small group discussion and a short welcome session before the chair’s speech each day.  
The outcome of this process was a series of recommendations  were made by the CA to the Irish parliament. The first set was a group of 15 formal recommendations, which broadly urged the government to take action to prepare for the negative effects of aging. The group unanimously agreed that ‘that the Government [should] urgently prioritise and implement existing policies and strategies in relation to older people’. There was also unanimous support for the government to ‘take steps to rationalise private pension schemes’. There was also broad support in recommendation 4 for the stats focus to be on home care and support for carers.
More practical recommendations included introduce a mandatory pension scheme to supplement the State pension, which had the support of 87% of the members, abolishing the mandatory retirement age (87% support) and benchmarking the state pension to average income (88%) support. The least supported recommendation, with only 60% of the vote, was that families and elderly individuals themselves should provide most homecare.
A second set of recommendations were also made [160. There were made on issues that weren’t directly related to the topic, but had emerged in the process. There were 6 of them. They called for more intergeneration wealth transfers, improved adult safeguarding, the creation of a minister for older people and creating a point of contact for older people and the state. These results were then published online and were submitted to the Irish parliament for consideration.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The ultimate goal of the CA was to deliver recommendations to the government, and to act as a way for ordinary citizens to become more engaged within the political process. In this it was successful, by gathering a collection of citizens and producing a list of recommendations that are useful and capture the attitudes of the Irish public. The direct response from the government was, however, lacklustre. The main response of the state was a single response from the Minister for Health , which highlighted the existing stakeholder meeting system and that work was being done on several of the areas under consideration. Several areas such as elder abuse were already being discussed and thought the CA’s findings would feed into this discussion they would not be a decisive factor in shaping legislation. Many areas such as wealth transfers and pension reforms were outside of the ministers remit, and as such he didn’t cover them. Though this can be viewed as disappointing, the outcome should be put in context. The CA had several sittings, many touching on key constitutional issues, notably abortion, and in this area helped to lead to a referendum on the issue. The relative lack of impact of this particular section was down to it being operated as more of a large and in depth focus group, rather than a body that was intended to produce direct legislation. It was successful enough to help encourage the creation of a second citizens assembly, which was operated between 2019 and 2021 , and to help make CAs appear to become a regular part of Irish politics.
Analysis and Lesson Learned
Insuring that any form of participatory democratic process is successful requires it to meet the benchmarks it has set for itself, but we must also seek to see if it could have otherwise maximised other potential democratic goods. As Smith (2009, p. 20) notes, ‘inclusiveness is clearly a significant good of democratic institutions’  and the Irish CA does an effective job at this, by collecting a representative sample of Irish residents to represent the population, with good representation of all demographics. The CA also did an effective job at ensuring that citizens were capable of making informed decisions by keeping up a constant education from experts. For an individual to truly make a considered judgement requires the ‘capacity to imaginatively place.. [themself] in the position of others’ (Smith, 2009, P. 24) , and by ensuring that education included personal testimonies by carers and elderly people ensured that the process maintained a strong emotive connection to the elderly. It can, however, be cautioned that the amount of time spent in direct contact with experts may not necessarily for the best; there is a risk that a CA run according to this form with a particular motive could, by only presenting data from a single perspective, run the risk of railroading participants into a position that they wouldn’t embrace with a more rounded education.
This issue expanded into the relatively lack of control of the process that was granted to the members. Though there was the steering committee, the substantial questions of organisation, especially the selection of the advisory committee wasn’t made by members, aside from the appointed chairwoman. On deeper analysis there was a lack of ‘sense that citizens [had] effective control over significant elements of decision-making’ (Smith, 2009, p.22) . Even small table discussions were presented with profession facilitators and there was only an opportunity to vote at the end of the last day. The process, again, is vulnerable to being shaped in a particular way to produce a desired outcome in the event of a political party creating a CA intended to support their own ends.
The process was very effective at enabling the public to ‘scrutinise the activities of institutions’ (Smith, 2009, p. 25) (19] that existed, due to the education they received. The ‘transparency of proceedings’ (Smith, 2009, p. 25)  was high, with the process easy to understand, with extremely comprehensive data on the entire process available online, including broadcasts of most of the process. This theme of efficiency was carried over across the entirety of the process. The total cost of the CA was around 1.5 million Euros, but for the comprehensive discussion that it did enable, which enabled the CA to be here and in other areas a valuable forum for Irish individuals to discuss things in a manner that may not be available to in regular civil society discourse.
This is vital to understanding both why the CA took place at all, as well as how transferable it would be to other issues. It can be contended that the CA should be understood as a way for the Irish government that was grappling with a deep and complex social issue to create a forum that could discuss the issue in a manner they could not and propose solutions that they would struggle to do. In the case with this CA, it was the key issue of the legalisation of abortion, which received two and a half times as much time in discussion as did the challenges of an aging population . The aging population CA debate were attached to the CA to lessen focus on the abortion debate, as well as because a CA is so complex and difficult to create, it may as well be used to cover other challenging topics that it is in the public interest to debate. Democratic innovations generally are often created as novel ways of breaking a deadlock around a particular issue in a given political system. Though the CA didn’t need to break a deadlock in the case of elderly people, it certainly did in the case of the abortion debate. The CA on an aging population can be viewed as an example of a way in which a democratic innovation created to solve a particular problem, in this case the legal status of abortion, was able to be turned on an emerging challenge in the future, with a slight, but still positive, impact on the political discourse around this issue. Though the process had no direct legislative power, it was able to effective massive change in the ROI and in the future may enable political deadlock to be broken again. If it was comprehensive transferred to another country or region that was deadlock in debate over a substantial political issue, it may be an effective method of breaking deadlock.
The full Irish citizens assembly: https://participedia.net/case/5316
 Smith, G. (2009). Studying democratic innovations: An analytical framework. In Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation (Theories of Institutional Design, pp. 8-29). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511609848.002
Website of the CA: https://2016-2018.citizensassembly.ie/en/
YouTube channel of the CA: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2DgyetL9aUTMry_F9B9yUw