Establishment of Citizens’ Assemblies

Establishment of Citizens’ Assemblies

My Dáil Contribution on the Establishment of Citizens’ Assemblies

Transcript: I acknowledge the contribution of Deputy Gino Kenny. He has a strong record of campaigning in this regard, which deserves to be acknowledged. There are elements in this Government who will push this forward. It matters to us too. I respect his record on this issue in particular.

This matters to the Green Party. We care about it deeply. The principle of subsidiarity, with decisions being made at the lowest effective level, is baked into our DNA. We believe in the wisdom of crowds and in the power of inclusive and deliberative democracy to tease out some of the issues that either Deputy Paul Donnelly or Deputy Quinlivan referred to. Not all the answers to this issue are available already. If we put people in the room, with expert advice, we will get answers that help us move towards a more inclusive society. This kind of informed debate can be an important counterweight to the populism that we see, which is often driven by social media platforms and which is about an instantaneous, quick, easily digested response rather than people with different points of view from different backgrounds sitting together and listening to one another to have a collaborative approach. The scale of challenges is significant, including climate, biodiversity, the drugs issue, the remaking of our local democracy and how we remake education for the 21st century. It is important that we engage in meaningful discussion in this making and remaking of society through that collaborative act of imagination.

In some ways, Ireland has led the way on this. We have been a trailblazer with citizens’ assemblies. Much of my work revolves around well-being indicators. The OECD framework shows that this indicator for civic engagement is the one that we do worst on in Ireland. Much of that is down to how we have debased and stripped out local government over decades. For the citizen, that has broken the connection between local democracy and the subsidiarity I mentioned, and how decisions are made by the Government. Citizens’ assemblies are an important way to remediate that damage. I would like to see them at a more local level so that citizens within counties or local areas really get to engage in this discussion.

I refer to a study by Torney, Brereton and Coleman, which indicates that both bottom-up approaches such as deliberative forums, including citizens’ assemblies, and top-down political leadership and coherent policies have to combine to tackle that level of existential threat that we see within the climate emergency and the pernicious problems that have bedevilled our society for a long time, including drugs and access to education. They acknowledge that deliberative forums can facilitate societal buy-in for tough policy decisions by including the concerns of citizens in policymaking and increasing the legitimacy of decisions and actions taken.

We have to be mindful that when we get these recommendations, we must action them in a meaningful way. If we allow citizens’ assemblies to turn into talking shops where people talk around the issue, issue recommendations and then do not see them implemented, we will undercut the trust that we have in what is a valuable institution. We have tough decisions ahead, but talking about those decisions together makes us stronger.