Remarks by Senator Fiach Mac Conghail in the Seanad this morning Wednesday 22nd February 2012 in relation to the announcement of a Constitutional Convention.
Senator Mac Conghail chaired ‘We the Citizens’, the independent initiative which in 2011 comprehensively tested the citizens’ assembly model of democratic engagement (Executive Summary of the ‘We the Citizens’ report attached)
This morning I would like to wholeheartedly welcome the soundings that are emanating from cabinet with regards to the establishment of a constitutional convention. Particularly, if the report that the involvement of citizens in the deliberation of political reform of our Republic is correct. It will be a good day that along with elected representatives, citizens will have an opportunity to participate in a decision-making process which not only will have a profound impact on our future but that in turn, I believe, will increase political participation.
As you might know, a Chathaoirligh, I was involved in a non-party political initiative last year called ‘We the Citizens’ which proved conclusively that citizens’ assemblies can and will work in this country. For us to change the political culture of our republic, citizens need to be involved in greater and more imaginative ways in a participatory democracy.
Ireland has changed and citizens are looking for new ways to engage in the civic and democratic life of their communities and their country. That was the message we heard as we travelled through Ireland in the summer of last year. What we found was that a great deal of common sense is generated when people get together to work things out. People came together at our events, not because of vested interests or political persuasion, but as individual citizens willing and ready to contribute to the future of our republic.
‘We the Citizens’ has shown that when you give people objective information and the opportunity to deliberate, not only do they make informed decisions; they also feel a greater connection to the democratic process. It is now a matter of public record that Citizens’ Assemblies work and that the expertise, published by ‘We the Citizens’, is free and publicly available to members of this house and to Government.
In this regard I welcome both Minister Brendan Howlin’s comments that he would look at this model of a citizens' assembly in the context of a constitutional convention and Minister Phil Hogan’s commitment to political reform.
My question to the leader is that I understand that draft proposals will be published over the coming week regarding a constitutional convention and that consultation will be sought with the opposition regarding the format. I would ask the Leader that all leaders of parties and technical groups within the Seanad are given the opportunity to be consulted and should contribute to the format of this convention and that we set aside time to debate this very important and historic convention.