Sunday 22 July 2018

Open debate is still democracy's best bad idea

The usual suspects stretched their lexicon to accuse the Citizens' Assembly of a 'stitch-up', writes Eoin O'Malley

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris

Eoin O'Malley

Citizens' assemblies are the best bad idea being touted to save democracy. At a time when there is elevated distrust in politics, involving citizens directly, and asking them to make decisions, gets around this problem. We don't trust politicians, but we trust 'people like us'.

But Ireland's Citizens' Assembly ran into a little bit of difficulty last week. This is the body that was set up by the Government in 2016 to deal with issues that the Government didn't want to have to deal with directly. Like the Constitutional Convention before it (which I served as an academic adviser), these 'deliberative publics' are handy ways of getting difficult issues off the agenda when negotiating a programme for government.

And they work. Citizens' assemblies have helped governments to tackle issues that most are instinctively scared to. The Constitutional Convention aired the debate on same-sex marriage and in its report forced Government to deal with it.

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