Concern as couple and set of neighbours are 'randomly selected' for constitutional body

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

THE Government's new constitutional think tank managed to "randomly" pick a couple and some neighbours as members from the entire population.

The links between members raises questions about the selection process for the Constitutional Convention, which was already embroiled in controversy over the identity of those "selected randomly" to make decisions about the future of the country.

The think-tank meets for the second time this weekend to consider the status of women in the Constitution and politics.

The convention is made up of 34 politicians and 66 ordinary citizens. The body claims the 66 ordinary members of the public were "selected randomly".

The odds of being randomly picked for the convention are 50,000 to one. But odds of a couple both being randomly picked are 2.5 billion to one.

Yet a couple and some neighbours were picked by a polling company as members.

Sorcha O'Neill from Kildare was asked by a polling company to be a member of the convention and she said her partner Keith Burke would also be interested.

The couple's relationship wasn't notified to other members by the organisers and was only noticed after they went for a drink at one of the meetings.

When both ran for the organising committee of the convention it is understood some TDs expressed concerns to the chairman Tom Arnold.

In the end, Mr Burke didn't get elected to the committee.

Sinn Fein is understood to have approached the chairman after Mr Burke criticised the party for issuing a press statement outlining its views on questions before the convention.

Aside from the couple, two neighbours, Lisa Harte and Lydia Peppard, of Trim, Co Meath, were also "selected randomly".

Although there are a couple and a set of neighbours selected, there was nobody picked from six counties in the country for the original list of members.

The convention says in both cases one person was picked for the convention and the other for a substitute panel, but was then called.

The body says the membership was selected randomly.

Despite claiming to operate in a "transparent" fashion, the convention is refusing to release the addresses of its members.

The body was already embroiled in controversy over the identity of its members after it farcically intended to keep the members anonymous.

But it was forced to publish a list of members' names and the counties they are from – but not exact addresses.

Mr Arnold defended the process saying "considerable effort" was devoted to assembling the panel. "In the circumstances, we are satisfied that they are collectively representative of society generally."