Irish Citizens Assembly 2018

Irish Citizens Assembly 2018

English

Purpose

 

The Irish Citizens Assembly was created by both the houses of the Irish Government known as the Houses of Oireachtas, the decision was made in July 2016 for an assembly to be established to look at a number of key political issues facing Irish society. The assembly was a deliberative group of 100 random citizens who would debate and then make recommendations to the Irish government on the topics mandated to them by the government. The 5 topics mandated to the assembly to consider were: 

 

·      The Eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution (This amendment concerns abortion. 

·      How to best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population. 

·      How to make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. 

·      The manner in which referenda are held in Ireland.

·      Fixed term parliaments. 

 

All of the topics were to be discussed and then the outcome would be determined by a majority vote of the members that were present at the meeting. Therefore, the output of the assembly were recommendations that had all subsequently been voted for by the members (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

History 

 

The motion for a citizens’ assembly was largely endorsed by many elected representatives in government in the wake of a previous mini-public, which was called the Constitutional Convention and took place in Ireland during 2012 – 2014 (Farrell, 2016). The mini-public was largely successful, the Irish government formally responded to 6 of the 9 reports, and put a further 2 up for a referendum (Citizensinformation.ie, 2014) which resulted in one of the group’s recommendations being enacted by the Irish government. 

Organising Entity and Funding 

 

The assembly was established by the Irish government as an independent body that could discuss and raise recommendations to the government on 5 different topics. The assembly consisted of one government appointed chairwoman and a sample of the general public that consisted of 99 randomly selected Irish citizens (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018). The rules and procedures for the assembly were discussed and agreed upon by all of the members and the chairwoman in the inaugural meeting (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018). The assembly was further guided by its 6 key principles which were openness, Fairness, equality of voice, efficiency, respect, and collegiality.

 

The funding of the assembly was fully supported by the Irish government, as promised in the Resolution (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018). As the assembly was publicly funded there were requests for tenders (RFTs) were issued for each of the different requirements that were required by the assembly. In total there were 6 different contracts available for companies to bid on. The requirements were: 

 

·      Provision of a representative sample of 99 members of the public and substitutes

·      Hotel Conference Requirements

·      Filming/ Live Broadcasting/ Streaming of the Citizens’ Assembly and associated follow up services

·      Provision of Irish Language Services for the Citizens’ Assembly’s Meetings

·      Facilitation and Note-taking Services for the Citizens’ Assembly

·      Media Liaison Services for the Citizen's Assembly

Members of the assembly were not paid for their attendance or reimbursed for missed days of work, instead, they were only reimbursed for their travel and a contribution towards childcare and also accommodation and catering. Similarly, guest speakers were also not paid a fee for their talks and lectures, they too were only reimbursed for their travel (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018). All financial costs of the assembly such as reimbursement to members, office administration and staff salaries were all paid for by the Irish government (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

Deliberations and Decisions 

 

Originally the assembly was only commissioned to operate from October 2016, then to conclude its meetings and present its recommendations to the government in July 2017, but on many occasions, the calendar for the meetings was revised by the chairwoman. The assembly was also granted an extension from the Houses of the Oireachtas so that the assembly could complete its consideration for the final two topics, this extension meant the assembly had until early 2018 to consider all the topics and present their recommendations to the government (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

 

The calendar revisions by the chairwoman meant that the assembly was granted an extra weekend of deliberation for the second topic, this was how the state could best respond to the challenges and the opportunities of an aging population. The assembly was also granted a further weekend of deliberations for the third topic which was how to ensure Ireland became a leader in tackling climate change. Both of these revisions were done to ensure that the assembly was able to adequately deliberate on each topic and it was felt that one weekend would not have been enough time (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

 

A further change to the meeting calendar was also conducted as the chairwoman felt that there had not been enough time between certain topics. This meant that there was not enough time to allow the assembly to prepare for the forthcoming topic, it was also unmanageable for the secretariat and the pace of the assembly was deemed unfair to the assembly members. The frequency and number of meetings were decided by the chairwoman, but all extensions had to be granted by the Houses of the Oireachtas (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

 

After all of the above revisions to the calendar, the assembly took a total of 12 meetings including the inaugural meeting. The 12 meetings were split across all of the topics and the inaugural meeting, of the 12 meetings a total of 5 weekends were dedicated to the deliberation of topic one, the eighth amendment. Two full weekends were dedicated to each topic 2 and topic 3, which were how to best respond to the ageing population and ensuring Ireland became a leader in tackling climate change. A final one weekend was allocated to the inaugural meeting and both topics 4 and 5 which were the manner in which referenda are held in Ireland and fixed-term parliaments (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

 

Generally speaking, each of the meetings followed the same format, and that would be as follows: 

 

·      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 (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

 

Roundtable discussions were built into the timetable for each meeting, this ensures that members of the assembly could if they wished further examine, discuss and debate the material they were considering for each topic (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018). At each of the meetings, there was a facilitator and a note taker present to assist with the roundtable discussions that took place, these were provided by an external company as mentioned above in the organising and funding.

 

The role of the facilitator and the note taker differed slightly in each of the two ways a roundtable discussion could take place. The first direction of a roundtable discussion following a presentation from an expert speaker, the assembly would typically divide into private groups to discuss what they had heard and to hear each other’s views on the presentations, in this type of discussion the role of the facilitator and note taker was to: 

 

  •  Facilitate a discussion in keeping with the Ground Rules and to focus on the conversation starters provided by the secretariat. 
  • Note any questions from the table which the Members would like them to ask on their behalf in the public Q&A session. This must be agreed with all Members and should also include agreement on priority questions with their table in case there isn’t time for every question. This is not obligatory as Members are free to ask questions directly of the panelist.
  • Record a short summary of the discussion for record keeping purposes. Again this must be agreed with all Members (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

 

The second direction of a roundtable discussion was a discussion where members of the assembly could consider the topics and presentations in more detail with more time. In this type of discussions, members may start to think about how recommendations could be formed. In this cases of discussions, the role of the facilitator and the note takers were to: 

  • Facilitate a discussion in keeping with the Ground Rules and to focus on the conversation starters provided by the secretariat. 
  • Record a summary of the discussion and feed this back to the Chair of the Assembly in the public session. This must be agreed with all Members. In undertaking this task, the facilitators and Members should have been aware of the following:
    • The facilitator was speaking on behalf of the Members at the table. As such, in describing the discussion the facilitator should avoid language like ‘it is our view/ we believe’. As the facilitator is not part of the discussion, phrases like, ‘it is the view of this table’ ‘some at this table expressed the view’ etc. should be used. 
    • Where possible the facilitator should provide feedback on the full range of views expressed at each table. The role of the facilitator in these sessions was not to present an agreed conclusion to a discussion, but rather to summarise the discussion that had taken place. In the spirit of equality of voice, one of the key principles of the Assembly, it is important that the full range of views was aired and reported to the Chair (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

 

Following from these roundtable discussions all recommendations were voted on, and depending on the majority view of the assembly these recommendations were put forward to the government.

Participant selection

There were 99 members of the public and 1 chairwoman. The public was selected by criteria designed to bring together a group of citizens who were a broad representation of the Irish public in terms of gender, regional spread, social class etc. (Harris, 2018). There was a further stipulation that all members had to be on the electoral roll and eligible to vote in a referendum. The role of recruiting members to the assembly was handled by an external company, REDC Research, and Marketing Ltd, this company had to recruit all 99 members of the assembly and substitutes in case any were unable to attend the assembly in the future. The chairwoman was appointed to the assembly by the Houses of the Oireachtas (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

 

In addition to the members of the assembly there were also two other groups, firstly, the Expert Advisory Group, this group was established to assist in the work of the assembly. The key roles of the Expert Advisory Group were to: 

 

  • Supporting the Chair and Secretariat in constructing a fair, balanced and comprehensive work programme for the Assembly on each of the topics;
  • Providing background expert advice on the issues being discussed;
  • Advising on the criteria for selecting specialists/ experts to appear before the Assembly;
  • Recommending names for the specialists/ experts to appear before the Assembly, for ratification by the Steering Group;
  • Working with the Chair and Secretariat to select speakers from civil society and advocacy groups (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

 

The Expert Advisory Group was made up of academics across a number of fields of interest and as a result, the expert Advisory Group changed throughout the lifespan of the assembly to reflect the interests on the topics being discussed at the time.

The second Group established was the steering group. The steering group was comprised of the chairwoman and a group of representatives from the assembly elected by the assembly. The groups were originally only meant to hold 6 citizens and the chairwoman but towards the end of the assembly there were a total of 12 citizens. The two conditions of being elected to the group were that the members had to meet in Dublin each month for 2 hours and must be available to deal by phone and email on an ad hoc basis (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018).

Experts were called to present on the various different topics that were being considered by the assembly. These individuals were invited to present by the Expert Advisory Group but subject to the agreement of the assembly. When these individuals were invited the Expert Advisory Group had to consider many different aspects, such as whether the expert were advocates of a certain outcome, ensuring they were experts in their field and that the experts' views were not conflicted by another expert. 

Outcomes 

Out of all 5 topics the assembly was set up to discuss and to consider the issues of the 8thamendment received a considerable amount of international press coverage. The government accepted this issue and put it to a public referendum on 25/05/2018, in this referendum, the Irish people voted to accept the assembly’s recommendations and voted for change (Citizenassembly.ie, 2018). Furthermore, the Houses of the Oireachtas have formally responded to topic 3 of the assembly, the government has established a special parliamentary committee to consider the report of the assembly. All other topics are yet to be responded to by the Irish government (Farrell, 2018). 

REFRENCES

 

Citizensassembly.ie. (2018). Expert Advisory Group - The Citizens' Assembly. [online] Available at: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Backgroun... [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018].

Citizensassembly.ie. (2018). Key Principles for the Assembly - The Citizens' Assembly. [online] Available at: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Backgroun... [Accessed 2 Dec. 2018].

Citizensassembly.ie. (2018). Meetings - The Citizens' Assembly. [online] Available at: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Backgroun... [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018].

Citizensassembly.ie. (2018). Meetings of the Citizens’ Assembly Calendar. [online] Available at: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Backgroun... [Accessed 3 Dec. 2018].

Citizensassembly.ie. (2018). Procurement and Costs - The Citizens' Assembly. [online] Available at: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Backgroun... [Accessed 4 Dec. 2018].

Citizensassembly.ie. (2018). Rules & Procedures - The Citizens' Assembly. [online] Available at: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Backgroun... [Accessed 3 Dec. 2018].

Citizensassembly.ie. (2018). The Citizens’ Assembly Fact Sheet. [online] Available at: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/CA-Fact-S... [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018].

Citizensassembly.ie. (2018). Who are the Members - The Citizens' Assembly. [online] Available at: https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/About-the-Citizens-Assembly/Who-are-t... [Accessed 3 Dec. 2018].

Citizensinformation.ie. (2014). The Constitutional Convention. [online] Available at: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/government_in_ireland/irish_constit... [Accessed 2 Dec. 2018].

Farrell, D. (2016). The Irish Citizens’ Assembly: yet another Irish mini-public on constitutional reform. [online] Irish Politics Forum. Available at: https://politicalreform.ie/2016/10/17/the-irish-citizens-assembly-yet-an... [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].

Farrell, D. (2018). What happens after a Citizens’ Assembly?. [online] Irish Politics Forum. Available at: https://politicalreform.ie/2018/07/18/what-happens-after-a-citizens-asse... [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].

Harris, C. (2018). The Irish Citizens’ Assembly / An Tionól Saoránach. [online] involve.org.uk. Available at: https://www.involve.org.uk/resources/case-studies/irish-citizens-assembl...ól-saoránach [Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

 

Case Data

Overview

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Dublin
Ireland
IE
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History

Start Date: 
Friday, October 14, 2016
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Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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No
Number of Meeting Days: 
24.00

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