Taoiseach Enda Kenny has condemned the “hounding” on social media of individuals from both sides of the Eighth Amendment debate.
Speaking at the first meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly in Dublin Castle today, the Taoiseach called on people to take time to “reflect, before you react” on internet sites.
Mr Kenny emphasised the importance of the Assembly being able to carry out their work with the necessary dignity, space and freedom.
“Social media has the Assembly within the reach and the sights of those with deeply held views. Regrettably, we live in a time when an opposing view is no longer seen simply as a diverse opinion, or a topic worthy of debate,” he said.
“Rather, we live in a time when diverse opinion has become something, or someone, to be pitied, to be ridiculed, and indeed, virtually hounded,” he added.
Addressing those who view the Citizens’ Assembly as a stalling tactic by the Government, the Taoiseach said abortion has divided Ireland in the past, and it is vital that the people be consulted on such a contentious matter.
“Some people give out to me about having set up a Citizens’ Assembly, but I’ve been to negotiations over the past few months, as you are aware, and I was told that I have to go back and consult with the people.”
99 people from across Ireland have been randomly selected to represent the Assembly, which will examine potential changes to the following:
Ireland’s abortion laws;
How referenda are held;
How Ireland is tackling climate change;
The response to challenges facing the ageing population.
The Assembly will be chaired by Supreme Court judge, Mary Laffoy.
Justice Laffoy echoed Mr Kenny’s sentiments, warning that “Any individual or organisation which attempts to contact a member of the Assembly will be automatically excluded,” adding that they should be “free to carry out their work without harassment or criticism.”
One of the guest speakers, David Farrell, Professor of Politics at UCD, told members of the Assembly that while they have been established to discuss change, “they are entitled to decide that no change is needed.”
Following the speeches, members met in a private session to deliberate the rules and procedures to be followed by the Assembly going forward.
The Citizens’ Assembly will meet again on November 25th in the Grand Hotel in Malahide, at which time it will commence its consideration of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
A report will then be presented to a yet-to-be established cross-party Dáil committee, who will make its own recommendations based on the Assembly’s views.
These will subsequently be forwarded to the Dáil and Seanad for a further vote in Autumn 2017/early 2018.
The Assembly has said that a recommendation and report on the Eighth Amendment will be submitted to the Oireachtas in the first half of 2017.