Citizens' Assembly publishes final report and recommendations

Chair Mary Laffoy has described the assembly - which considered five issues - as "a unique and novel process"

Citizens' Assembly publishes final report and recommendations

Picture by: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

The Citizens' Assembly has submitted its final report, more than a year-and-a-half after it first met in October 2016.

Over the course of the assembly, members considered five topics - the Eighth Amendment; confronting the 'challenges and opportunities' of an ageing population; tackling climate change; the manner in which referendums are held; and the issue of fixed term parliaments.

The final report submitted to the Oireachtas includes the assembly's recommendations on the final two issues, which were considered at meetings in January and April.

In the report, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy - who chaired the assembly - also offers her reflections on the Citizens' Assembly process.

She recommends that any future assembly should develop policies regarding social media, "to limit the impact of external parties and proceedings"

The assembly's recommendations began the process that led to the recent Eighth Amendment referendum, while an earlier assembly considered the issue of same-sex marriage ahead of the eventual vote.

Ms Justice Laffoy explained: "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. 

“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.”

She praised those who participated in the process, saying: “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."

Recommendations

File photo of Mary Laffoy at Citizens' Assembly. Image: RollingNews.ie

In sittings earlier this year, members of the assembly recommended that the Referendum Commission should have to give its view on significant disputes that arise during a referendum campaign.

94% voted in favour of the recommendation, which specifically includes disputes on social media.

In relation to funding, members agreed the Oireachtas should implement spending limits for political parties, campaign groups and individuals; that anonymous donations to these groups should be prohibited; and that the Government should provide money to both sides equally.

When it comes to voting, the assembly felt that it's a good idea to have more than one referendum on unrelated issues at a time; that it should be possible to have more than two options on a ballot paper; and that the government should give effect to the outcome within five years.

The assembly also considered how to increase voter turnout, and agreed that there should be weekend, online and more postal voting.

It also suggested that voters should be able to cast their ballots at any polling station, and that the period you can live outside the State should be increased to five years, and that citizens should have the ability to suggest possible constitutional amendments.

Fixed-term parliaments 

In relation to fixed-term parliaments, the assembly has made a number of recommendations on how the Dáil should be dissolved.

A narrow majority (51%) suggested that the current constitutional position should be changed - and, if it is changed, 59% said that the length of parliaments should be four years.

95%, meanwhile, agreed that if a change does happen there should be a fixed term that can be cut short subject to certain conditions.