About the 2016 – 2018 Citizens’ Assembly
The Citizens’ Assembly 2016-2018 was an exercise in deliberative democracy, placing the citizen at the heart of important legal and policy issues facing Irish society. With the benefit of expert, impartial and factual advice the 100 citizen Members considered the topics below. Their conclusions formed the basis of a number of reports and recommendations that were submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas for further debate by our elected representatives.
The establishment of the Citizens Assembly 2016 – 2018 was approved by Resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas in July 2016. The Programme for a Partnership Government committed the Government to ‘the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly, within six months and without participation by politicians, with a mandate to look at a limited number of key issues over an extended time period.’ The Resolution set out Citizens’ Assembly 2016 – 2018 to consider the following matters and to make such recommendations as it sees fit and report to the Houses of the Oireachtas
- The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution
- How we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an aging population
- Fixed term parliaments
- The manner in which referenda are held
- How the state can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change
The Assembly’s terms of reference stated that consideration of the five topics would be completed “not later than one year from the date of the first Assembly meeting”, i.e. November 2016. It became clear that it would not be possible to consider all topics within the one-year time frame given the addition of a second weekend for both the second and third topics considered by the Assembly, how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population and how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change respectively.
The Assembly received an extension on 3 October 2017 from the Houses of the Oireachtas in order to complete its consideration of the remaining two topics by the end of March 2018. A second extension was required and received from the Houses of the Oireachtas due to the postponement of the March 2018 meeting because of Storm Emma.
The Assembly’s six key principles are as follows:
Openness: the Citizens’ Assembly will operate with complete transparency with all plenary meetings being broadcast live at www.citizensassembly.ie and all documentation freely available. The Assembly should be open to hearing from all sections of society on any issue, including our Diaspora and young people under 18 years of age, who are not directly represented in the Assembly membership;
Fairness: it is important that we allow the full spectrum of views to be heard on every issue and that our briefing material for Assembly members is of the highest quality;
Equality of voice: amongst all Assembly members. Each member will be given an opportunity to voice their opinions, should they so wish;
Efficiency: the Assembly will make best use of our limited time together and ensure that all documentation is circulated in advance so members can properly prepare for meetings;
Respect: it is important that members can freely and confidently make contributions and express their views without fear of personal attacks or criticism; and
Collegiality: we will work together in a spirit of friendship as together we embark on this task.
The Assembly’s rules and procedures were agreed at the inaugural meeting and were as follows:
1. Timing, Frequency and Openness of Meetings
Meetings of the Assembly will generally take place in a hotel at weekends (Saturdays and Sundays) during 2016 and 2017. Full details of the proposed dates for these meetings are available on www.citizensassembly.ie. Members of the public will not have access to the meetings but the plenary sessions will be streamed live at www.citizensassembly.ie.
2. Role and Duties of the Chairperson
The Chairperson shall be the sole judge of order and shall be responsible for the smooth running of the Assembly in accordance with these rules and the terms of the Resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas of July, 2016. She shall engage such support services as are necessary for the effective administration of the forum and, from time to time, make such recommendations to the Assembly on the management of business as she sees fit.
3. Work Programme
The work programme shall be agreed by the Assembly on foot of a proposal by the Chairperson. The programme shall be reviewed regularly but any subsequent changes shall only take effect with the agreement of the Assembly.
4. Steering Group
A Steering Group shall be established to support the Assembly in the efficient and effective discharge of its role and functions. In practice, the Group shall assist with planning and operational issues associated with the work programme. The Steering Group shall consist of the Chairperson and a sample of the members and such other representatives as the Assembly sees fit.
5. Protection of Members’ Privacy
While the names and general areas where Members come from will be made available on www.citizensassembly.ie, other personal details of the Members will be treated in strictest confidence. Any individual or organisation which attempts to contact a Member to try to influence their views on a particular topic will be automatically excluded from taking part in the Assembly.
6. Debates/Speaking Arrangements
The format and structure of speaking arrangements shall be agreed in advance and as a general principle, all contributions by members should be brief, respectful and non-repetitive. Any member wishing to speak should indicate and will be called upon by the Chairperson, who will endeavour to ensure fairness in the allocation of speaking time to all members. In an effort to make most efficient use of time in plenary session, members are encouraged to use the opportunity of roundtable discussions to express their views, ask further question of the experts and deliberate with one another. These discussions can be reflected in a brief report to the plenary session.
7. Tabling and Circulation of Papers
All documents received by the Assembly secretariat shall be made available to all members of the Assembly via the www.citizensassembly.ie website. Alternative arrangements will be made for those members who are not in a position to access the site. Deadlines for receipt of submissions and circulation of documents in advance of plenary meetings should be agreed by the Assembly.
8. Presentations to the Assembly
Following receipt of submissions on any matter, the Assembly may choose to hear oral presentations from any representative group or individual to assist in its deliberations. For the efficient administration of the process, the Steering Group may wish to make recommendations in relation to the selection of interested bodies to present to the Assembly. Invitations shall be issued by the Chairperson on behalf of the Assembly.
Votes, if required, shall be by secret ballot of the members present and voting. Votes shall be overseen by the Chairperson with the support of at least 2 members of the Assembly.
10. Expert Advisory Group
As provided for in the Oireachtas Resolution, the Assembly shall establish an Expert Advisory Group to assist with its work in terms of preparing information and advice. The Expert Advisory Group will be comprised of academics/practitioners across a number of specific fields of interest including political/ Social Science; Constitutional Law and Theory; Medical Law and Ethics; Medicine and Obstetrics. The composition and focus of the Expert Advisory Group may change during the lifetime of the Assembly.
11. Irish Language Facilities
A simultaneous translation service from Irish into English will be available for all plenary sessions of the forum if required.
12. Accessibility of Services and Information for Persons with Disabilities
In line with the provisions in the Disability Act 2005 and the Code of Practice on Accessibility of Public Services and Information Provided by Public Bodies, the Assembly will ensure that services and information will be accessible to all Members including those with a disability insofar as is practicable and appropriate. It is noted that all Assembly members have been selected at random to represent the views of the people of Ireland and are broadly representative of society as reflected in the Census.
13. Press and Communications
Authorised members of the media shall be permitted to attend plenary sessions of the Assembly, subject to such terms and conditions as may be laid down by the Assembly. As a general principle, the Chairperson shall act as spokesperson in relation to administrative or procedural matters.
14. Members Interaction with the Media
Members shall refrain from media interviews or public commentary while the Assembly is actively considering a topic. This shall also apply to social media.
Reports of the Assembly shall be published as soon as practicable after a decision has been reached at each meeting. It shall be possible to finalise the detail of the content of each report other than in plenary session, subject to the agreement of the Assembly.
16. Review of Procedures
The Chairperson shall consult with members of the Assembly and other interested parties and conduct such reviews of the procedures and administration of the Assembly as she sees fit.
17. Assembly Secretariat
The Chairperson shall have direction and control over the staff of the secretariat and other supports and resources available, subject to the wishes of the Assembly.
The Oireachtas resolution establishing the Assembly states that “an Expert Advisory Group will be established to assist the work of the Assembly in terms of preparing information and advice.”
The main roles of the Expert Advisory Group included the following:
- 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.
The Expert Advisory Group was comprised of academics/practitioners across a number of specific fields of interest. The composition and focus of the Expert Advisory Group changed during the lifetime of the Assembly.
The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution
For the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution the specific fields of interest of the members included:
- Political/ Social Science;
- Constitutional Law and Theory;
- Medical Law and Ethics;
- Medicine and Obstetrics.
The members of the Expert Advisory Group on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution were Dr Elizabeth Dunn, Oran Doyle (Trinity College Dublin), John Garry (Queen’s University Belfast), Prof Declan Keane, Professor Deirdre Madden (University College Cork), Tom Walker (Queen’s University Belfast) and Rachael Walsh (Trinity College Dublin).
How We Best Respond to the Challenges and Opportunities of an Ageing Population
For how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population the specific fields of interest of the members included:
- Political/ Social Science;
- Health Policy/ Medical Gerontology;
- Participation including Social and Economic Aspects of Ageing;
- Legal issues including elder abuse and neglect;
- Social Work/ Social Justice.
The members of the Expert Advisory Group on how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population were Susan Cliffe, John Garry (Queen’s University Belfast), Professor Rose Anne Kenny (Trinity College Dublin), Eamon O’Shea (NUI Galway), Dr Amanda Phelan (University College Dublin) and Patricia Rickard-Clarke.
How the State can make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change
For how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change the specific fields of interest of the members included:
- Political Science, with a particular focus on the politics of climate change;
- Environmental Governance and Sustainable Development;
- Environmental Law;
- Climate Science;
The members of the Expert Advisory Group on how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change were Professor Anna Davies (Trinity College Dublin), Dr Margaret Desmond (University College Cork), John Garry (Queens University Belfast), Dr Áine Ryall (University College Cork), Professor Peter Thorne (Maynooth University) and Dr Diarmuid Torney (Dublin City University).
The Manner in Which Referenda are Held & Fixed Term Parliaments
On the topic of the manner in which referenda are held and fixed term parliaments, the Expert Advisory Group is comprised of academics/practitioners across a number of specific fields of interest including:
- Constitutional Law;
- Political Science, including but not limited to deliberative democracy, electoral behaviour, and political institutions;
- political communication.
The members of the Expert Advisory Group on the manner in which referenda are held and fixed term parliaments were Oran Doyle (Trinity College Dublin), Robert Elgie (Dublin City University) John Garry (Queen’s University Belfast), Kevin Rafter (Dublin City University), Theresa Reidy (University College Cork) and Rachael Walsh (Trinity College Dublin).
The Expert Advisory Group’s Terms of Reference are available here.
In accordance with the Citizens’ Assembly rules and procedures, a Steering Group was in place to support the Assembly in the efficient and effective discharge of its role and functions. In practice, the Group assisted with planning and operational issues associated with the work programme. The Steering Group consisted of the Chairperson and a representative group of Assembly Members elected by the Assembly Members.
The Steering Group’s Terms of Reference are available here.
Who may attend as an observer?
In accordance with the Rules and Procedures of the Assembly, members of the public did not have access to the meetings of the Citizens’ Assembly but the plenary sessions were streamed live at www.citizensassembly.ie.
However, it was recognised that certain organisations/ individuals may have a legitimate interest in being present at the meetings to observe proceedings first hand.
In light of this, representatives from the following categories were permitted to be present at the plenary sessions of the meetings of the Citizens’ Assembly:
- Advocacy Groups, Non Governmental Organisations and Religious groups
- Political parties
- Social Partners
Rules and Procedures for attendance at meetings of the Assembly*:
As a general principle, the Chairperson shall act as spokesperson in relation to administrative or procedural matters. All instructions from the Chairperson directed at observers should be adhered to by observers.
While the names and general areas where members come from are available on www.citizensassembly.ie, other personal details of the Members must be treated in strictest confidence.
Any individual or organisation which attempts to contact a member to try to influence their views on a particular topic will be automatically excluded from attending Assembly meetings.
Observers may be present for the plenary sessions and must leave the venue for the private sessions.
All observers must remain silent throughout the sessions and be respectful of the members and the Assembly proceedings at all times.
The use of mobile phones will not be permitted.
Failure to observe these rules and procedures will result in automatic exclusion from all Assembly meetings.
*REVISED February 2017
Under public procurement rules, Requests for Tenders (RFTs) were issued in respect of the selection of service providers for different requirements necessary for both the establishment and continued operation of the Assembly. Where relevant, tenders were published on the Government’s dedicated procurement website, eTenders.
The following requests for tenders were advertised on the eTenders website:
- 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
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.
Provided below is a breakdown of costs involved in running the Assembly meetings from the formation of the Assembly in August 2016 to end May, 2018.
Members were reimbursed for expenses incurred in attending the meetings, including travel costs and a contribution towards childcare. Payment was not made for attendance or for any missed days of work either to Members or their employers.
The Assembly did not pay a fee to guest speakers for their attendance. Travel expenses were covered.
Salary and office administration costs for the Assembly were met on an ongoing basis and are not included in the costs below.
|Costs to end December 2016
|January – December 2017
|January – June 2018
|Totals to End June, 2018
|Conference/Catering and accommodation
|Reimbursement of Travel and other Expenses
|Irish Translation Services/Provision of Sign Language Services
|Recruitment of Members/ Facilitation and Notetaking Services
In November 2016, the Irish Research Council, at the request of the Assembly secretariat, issued a call for proposals for a research leader. The purpose of this was to secure a suitably qualified academic with relevant and applicable research experience to assist the Secretariat in gaining a better understanding of the perceived deliberative quality of the Assembly and its modus operandi. It was also intended to provide a mechanism where by the Secretariat can receive feedback from the members to contribute towards ongoing development and improvements.
The call was issued on the Irish Research Council’s website. The documentation issued and application details are available here. The closing date was 11 November 2016.
On the 23 November 2016, the evaluation team awarded the contract to Professor David Farrell from University College Dublin. Professor Farrell is working in collaboration with Dr Jane Suiter from Dublin City University on this research.
The research was carried out through the use of surveys which were completed by the Assembly Members, typically at the start and end of each weekend meeting.
After each weekend the research team analysed the data gathered and prepares a report for the Secretariat. This report is then shared with the Members at the next meeting. Copies of these reports are available here.
Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture
The Chairperson of the Assembly, the Honourable Mary Laffoy, delivered the 2017 Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture. The lecture was pre-recorded and broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on 29 December 2017.
The lecture was entitled “The Citizens’ Assembly: An Exercise in Deliberative Democracy”. The lecture provided a detailed overview of the establishment and background to the Assembly and its operation as a deliberative democracy exercise. It focused on the Assembly’s processes and procedures, as opposed to the content of the topics considered.
The text of the Chairperson’s speech can be read here.
Following the Chairperson’s speech there was a brief questions and answers session with the host, Olivia O’Leary.
For more information about the Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture and to listen back please visit the RTÉ website by clicking here.
The Burren Law School
The Burren Law School conference for 2018 took place from Friday, 4 May to Sunday, 6 May. The focus of this year’s conference was “Law and the Art of the Possible: The Fifth Province?“.
The Chairperson of the Assembly, the Honourable Mary Laffoy, delivered a speech titled “Deliberative democracy: a worthwhile contribution to the fifth province?” at the Sunday morning session.
For further information on the Burren Law School, please visit their website.