Thursday June 21st, 2018 – The final report and recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly (the Assembly) on the fourth and fifth topics, namely ‘The manner in which referenda are held’ and ‘Fixed Term Parliaments’ has been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas today by Chair of the Assembly, the Honourable Ms. Mary Laffoy. Today’s report also includes a chapter outlining reflections by the Chair on the Citizens’ Assembly process which the Chair hopes will be of assistance to the Oireachtas in the event that a further such exercise in deliberative democracy is pursued.
The recommendations in relation to the fourth and fifth topics followed two weekends of deliberation in January and April of this year. As with previous meetings of the Assembly the Members of the Assembly once again had the benefit of an array of expertise and perspectives in advance of their deliberations, hearing from six and four experts respectively.
In her introduction to the final report the Chair of the Assembly said: “The manner in which referenda are held is a more difficult topic than its title might have initially indicated. The holding of a referendum is a fundamental component of our democracy. A referendum is the only manner by which our Constitution can be amended. Irish people are most familiar with voting in constitutional referendums as this is the only type of referendum which has been held in Ireland.
“In relation to Fixed Term Parliaments our consideration of this topic focussed on whether the law should be changed and whether there should be greater restrictions in place on the Taoiseach’s ability to advise the President to dissolve the Dáil. The topic required the Assembly to consider a number of articles of the constitution.”
As this report is the final one to be submitted to the Oireachtas, the Chair of the Assembly included a final chapter outlining her reflections on the Assembly process. “It is appropriate at the end of this process that I, as Chairperson, and indeed the Members, should give reflections on the process and how it has operated. Ireland is in the vanguard in relation to this innovative form of citizen engagement. No other country has convened two of these processes back to back. Furthermore, following the outcome of the referendum on the thirty-sixth amendment of the Constitution (which resulted from the Assembly’s consideration of the eighth amendment of the Constitution), Ireland is now the only country where such an exercise has led to two changes to the Constitution being approved by the electorate (the first being the thirty-fourth amendment in relation to marriage equality).
“These reflections are offered as insights, on what is a unique and novel process. It is hoped that they will be of benefit not only to the political system, but to others involved in exercises such as these in other jurisdictions.”
A summary of the reflections from the Chair of the Assembly are outlined below and full details are available in Chapter 8 of the final report.
The Chair also expressed her gratitude to the Assembly Members and urged the members of the Houses of the Oireachtas to give these recommendations due consideration. “After a longer than expected 18 month commitment and consideration of five separate topics, Members continued to willingly give up their weekends and worked hard to ensure that they understood the issues before making carefully considered, informed recommendations. I have been truly astounded by their commitment, energy, openness and hard work. I also greatly admire the collegiality they have displayed and their welcome to the new Members who have joined the Assembly. All Members have embodied the spirit of the Assembly since they joined with no exceptions. They have been alive to the key principles of the Assembly at all times – Openness, Fairness, Equality of Voice, Efficiency, Respect and Collegiality. I have found their level of commitment to public service over the last 18 months extraordinary.”
In relation to ‘The manner in which referenda are held’, a total of 11 questions (question 5 and 8 containing two parts) appeared on the ballot paper and the following 10 recommendations were made:
- R1. 94% voted that the functions of the Referendum Commission should be carried out by a permanent Electoral Commission (Question 1);
- R2. 94% voted that the Referendum Commission should be obliged to give its view on significant matters of factual or legal dispute that arise during a referendum campaign in the public domain (including on social media) (Question 2);
- R3. 87% voted to agree with the current position where the Government is not permitted to spend public money to advocate on one side only of a referendum campaign (Question 3);
- R4. 68% voted that the Government should provide money to both sides equally in referendum campaigns (Question 4);
- R5. In respect of spending in referendum campaigns-
i. 98% voted that the Oireachtas should develop and effectively implement a system of spending limits in referendum campaigns for registered political parties, campaign groups and individuals (Question 5a);
ii. 72% voted that anonymous donations to registered political parties and campaign groups should be prohibited (Question 5b);
- R6. 80% voted that it is a good idea to have more than one referendum on unrelated issues at the same time (Question 6);
- R7. In respect of multi-option voting in a Constitutional referendum 76% voted that it should be permissible to have more than two options on a ballot paper in a constitutional referendum (Question 8a);
- R8. 89% voted that, in principle, the Oireachtas and the Government should give effect to the outcome of a referendum within 5 years (Question 9);
- R9. In respect of the introduction of specified initiatives to increase voter turnout in referendums-
i. 100% voted for weekend voting (Question 10c);
ii. 70% voted for online voting (Question 10d);
iii. 83% voted for wider availability of postal voting (Question 10e);
iv. 89% voted for the ability to vote at any polling station in the State (Question 10f);
v. 95% voted for the automatic inclusion of all eligible voters on the electoral register (Question 10g);
vi. 80% voted for lowering the voting age to 16 (Question 10i);
vii. 77% voted for allowing voting by otherwise eligible voters, who are resident outside the State, for no more than five years (Question 10j);
viii. 96% voted for greater provision of voter education on Referendums (Question 10k);
- R10. In respect of which, if any, specified types of citizens’ initiatives should be provided for-
a) 69% voted in favour of a citizens’ initiative to put a constitutional referendum proposal to the people (Question 11a);
b) 69% voted in favour of a citizens’ initiative to put a legislative change proposal to the people (including enacting, changing or repealing legislation) (Question 11b);
c) 83% voted in favour of a citizens’ initiative to put an item on the agenda for decision by the Oireachtas (Question 11c).
The Assembly also voted on four further questions, the results of which are not outlined in recommendations as the majority cannot be determined in respect of these due to an issue with member recruitment made public in February. Full details are contained in the report.
In relation to ‘Fixed Term Parliaments’, four questions were voted on by the Members and the following four recommendations were made:
- RI. 51% voted that, the current constitutional position as regards the dissolution of Dáil Éireann should be changed (Question 1).
- RII. 59% voted that, if the current constitutional position as regards the dissolution of Dáil Éireann is changed, the length of the fixed parliamentary term should be four years (Question 2).
- RIII. 95% voted that, if the current constitutional position as regards the dissolution of Dáil Éireann is changed, there should be a fixed term that can be cut short subject to certain conditions (Question 3).
- RIV. If the current constitutional position as regards the dissolution of the Dáil is changed, and there is a fixed term parliament which can be cut short subject to certain conditions:
a) 66% voted that the approval of the Cabinet (which includes the Taoiseach) should be needed for an early general election (Question 4a).
b) 52% voted that the approval of a majority of the members of Dáil Éireann should be needed (Question 4b).
c) 70% voted that the approval of a super-majority of the members of Dáil Éireann (eg two thirds) should be needed (Question 4c).
d) 84% voted that the approval of the President should be needed (Question 4d).
The full final report, recommendations of the Assembly and reflections from the Chair can be read https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/Manner-in-which-referenda-are-held/Final-Report-on-the-Manner-in-Which-Referenda-are-Held-and-Fixed-Term-Parliaments/Final-Report-on-the-Manner-in-Which-Referenda-are-Held-and-Fixed-Term-Parliaments.html
Full details of ballot paper, presentations, etc. for ‘The manner in which referenda are held’ and ‘Fixed Term Parliaments’ are available on the Citizens’ Assembly website. All previous public sessions of the Assembly can also be watched back on the Citizens’ Assembly YouTube Channel.
Media Contact: Páraic Gallagher, Q4PR: 087 818 0555