Citizens' Assembly chair urges Irish abroad and youth to 'make your voices heard'
Irish people living abroad have been asked to "make their voices heard" in the contentious debate over abortion laws in Ireland.
And those under 18 have also been signalled out to contribute their thoughts to the discussion.
The Citizens' Assembly’s 99 members, drafted from the general public, convened in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, for its first full-day meeting this morning.
Speaking on the first day of deliberations regarding the highly controversial abortion issue, chairperson Ms Justice Mary Laffoy stressed the importance of "deliberative democracy" in the process.
"We are actively seeking submissions from representative groups, citizens organisations, other interest bodies, and members of the public on the topic of the Eighth Amendment.
"There has been a high level of interest in the submissions process."
To date, the assembly has received almost 600 public submissions, including one from the standing committee of the Church of Ireland.
Some representations contained personal testimony from women regarding their experiences of pregnancy and abortion.
"The submissions are integral to the work of the Assembly and I would encourage people to have their voices heard, in particular the diaspora and young people under 18 years of age, who are not directly represented in the Assembly membership.
"The submissions will form the basis of the selection of advocacy and other organisations which will make presentations in future weekend sessions."
Four weekends of deliberations and presentations between November and March will be dedicated solely on the topic of the Eight Amendment to the Constitution.
The provision recognises "the right to life of the unborn, with due regard to the equal life of the mother."
Meanwhile, 11 of the 99 ordinary members of the Assembly have stepped down from the body over the past month.
In the majority of cases the decision was made personal reasons.
The body's secretariat says they have been replaced by substitutes - drawn from a panel which was chosen along with the full members - in the lead-up to the assembly's first meeting last month.
Ranging in age from 20 to 70, members were randomly selected by a polling company to be broadly representative of the Irish electorate.
Last month, Taoiseach Enda Kenny praised members at their inaugural meeting for agreeing to "put their heads above the parapet" by agreeing to participate.
Other topics the assembly will cover over the year include the ageing population, fixed term parliaments, referendums and climate change.