The Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore TD, has welcomed the findings of We the Citizens, the independent initiative which this year tested the citizens’ assembly model of democratic engagement. He was attending the launch of the final report of We the Citizens, where he was presented with a copy by a group of citizens who had taken part in the pilot assembly. The launch event took place in the National Library, Kildare Street, Dublin today (Monday 12th December 2011)
Mr Gilmore said that the We the Citizens research had shown that Irish people want to have their say in the big questions facing us as a nation. “The evidence produced by We the Citizens is heartening, and provides valuable lessons for how we can improve our democracy in practical and meaningful ways”, added the Tánaiste.
The Chairperson of We the Citizens, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail called on the government to incorporate the citizens’ assembly model into its plans for a constitutional convention which is due to be convened next year. “Based on the evidence of our academic research and on what we heard and recorded from citizens all over the country, We the Citizens recommends that the government adopts a citizens’ assembly mechanism to support and enhance our representative democracy”, he said.
We the Citizens Academic Director, Professor David Farrell of University College Dublin, said that the findings of the initiative were conclusive. “As a result of their participation and being given detailed information, citizens demonstrated a significant capacity to change their opinion and felt more positive about their influence on politics, compared to those who had not taken part”, he said
After the Citizens’ Assembly, participants:
- showed a greater interest in politics
- expressed more willingness to discuss and become more involved in politics
- felt more positive about the ability of ordinary people to influence politics
- demonstrated large shifts in opinion on the economic issues they had discussed, such as tax, spending and the sale of State assets
- revealed important shifts in opinion regarding the role of Dáil deputies
- became more aware of the complex trade-offs to be made in the areas of political reform and fiscal policy.
Senator Mac Conghail added that if reform programmes were to be successful, citizens must have an ownership in this political reform process. “A citizens’ assembly allows that to happen”, he said.
“We the Citizens has shown that a Citizens’ Assembly strengthens our democracy by helping to restore trust in the democratic system of government.”
We the Citizens was a pilot project to test whether a more participatory form of democracy could work in Ireland. The model tested was a Citizens’ Assembly which is a form of deliberative democracy.
A representative group of citizens was randomly chosen, by an independent polling company, to attend the pilot Citizens’ Assembly on 25th and 26th June 2011 in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
- •Seven regional citizens’ events had been held in May and June 2011 to inform the agenda of the Citizens’ Assembly.
- A series of independent surveys – also informed by the issues raised by citizens at the regional events – was conducted to monitor and evaluate changes in the views of participants.
- At the assembly, participants were given expert information and the opportunity to deliberate on particular policy issues.
- They were surveyed afterwards to see whether deliberation had led them to change their views about the issues discussed. Control groups who had not taken part in the Citizens’ Assembly were also polled.
Following the launch, a seminar was held to discuss the findings and recommendations of the report. It was attended by interested civil society groups as well public servants and political officials.
We the Citizens is funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies. It was set up for a defined period from January 2011 to December 2011.