Former pro-choice activist removed from Citizens' Assembly

The Citizens' Assembly member was replaced due to his history as a pro-choice advocate

Former pro-choice activist removed from Citizens' Assembly

Dublin Castle | Photocall file photo

A member of the Citizens’ Assembly has been replaced after it emerged he was previously a member of a pro-choice group.

The Assembly, set up to consider a range of issues – including the potential repeal of the Eight Amendment – met for the first time last Saturday in Dublin Castle.

The forum, chaired by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, is made up of 99 citizens selected by polling company Red C.

The company chose the participants at random, aiming for a “broadly representative” selection of the Irish electorate – however the process included a number of screening questions aimed at discerning whether participants had ever been involved with interest groups connected with the abortion issue.

It is believed a misunderstanding meant the man’s history slipped through the screening process and he approached organisers on Saturday to alert them to the situation.

The man will now be replaced by one of 99 substitutes, also recruited by the polling company.

An assembly spokesperson said that members of advocacy groups were excluded from the recruitment process because, “interest groups are invited to make submissions on the matters concerning them.”

“Following the inaugural meeting of the assembly a citizen member brought his previous membership of an advocacy group to the attention of the Secretariat and as a result is no longer a member of the assembly,” she said in a statement.

She said the “random nature” of the assembly’s make-up means that it does include members who hold views on either side of a debate - however members have been asked not to comment publicly while the assembly is sitting. 

“These variations in opinion are to be expected and are part of the value of the Assembly,” she said.

The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) have expressed their “disappointment and frustration” with the decision.

ARC spokesperson Linda Kavanagh called the decision “ridiculous” and said the man has not been an active member of a pro-choice group since 2012.

“What we are seeing is the pro-choice movement effectively being penalised for having successfully engaged citizens to be active on this issue,” she said.

“Now we are being told these citizens are not allowed to take part in a Citizens’ Assembly. It's completely undemocratic.

“The Citizens’ Assembly is supposed to be a random selection of individuals to represent the population. They should not be replaced simply because the organisers have decided they don’t like who they got.

“If the Citizens’ Assembly is only to be made up of people who have stayed silent on this matter, it effectively means a group of Citizens who are satisfied with the status quo."

Independent TD Mattie McGrath has also released a statement criticising the selection process and pointing out that 11 counties – with a combined population of 970,000 people – have no representation within the assembly.

“From the very beginning serious questions have been raised about the integrity of this absurd process which has been set up as a kind of parallel legislative body to the Oireachtas,” he said.

“The Assembly is being asked to deliberate and recommend profound changes to the Constitution of this nation; changes that will affect all of us for generations to come, born and unborn.

“I believe there is a genuine imperative at this point to question the validity of the entire process and the robustness of the polling methodology that was employed to select members.