Independent initiative to help renew trust in public life
We the Citizens12 April 2011 - Original Source
NATIONAL CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY TO BE HELD IN JUNE
We the Citizens, an independent national initiative aimed at showing how Ireland could benefit from citizens coming together in new forms of public decision-making, has been launched in Dublin. The objective is to help to renew democracy and to contribute towards the restoration of trust in public life, at this time of social and economic crisis in Ireland.
The Chairman of We the Citizens, Fiach Mc Conghail, who is Director of the Abbey Theatre, told the launch that a national citizens’ assembly would be held in June to consider proposals on making the political institutions of the State better suited to serving citizens. The agenda of the assembly will be decided by seven citizen-led events around the country and by a nationwide poll, conducted by an independent polling company. 150 people, representing a cross-section of Irish society and who took part in the poll, would be invited to participate at the assembly.
“All the political parties in the Oireachtas have made significant promises to lead and implement political reform and what ‘We the Citizens’ will promise to do is two-fold,” said Mr Mac Conghail.
“We will maintain the pressure on our politicians to change the way we are governed in this Republic. We will also show that a bottom-up approach can support a better and more productive citizen engagement in creating public policy,” said Mr Mac Conghail. “Before the Dáil breaks for the summer we will demonstrate to the government and all the political parties that this is a proven way to reconnect Irish citizens to politics to the benefit of the country as a whole.”
The Chairperson announced that the citizens’ events leading up to the national assembly would take place during May and June in Kilkenny, Cork, Galway, Athlone, Letterkenny and Dublin. We the Citizens would be organising the events but not setting the agenda for them. The discussion would be highly-participatory and led by the citizens themselves.
‘We the Citizens’ Executive Director, Caroline Erskine, said that the initiative was timely. “The depth of this crisis has brought with it a great opportunity to start afresh. To restructure. There is a mood for public mobilisation. People are ready to get involved in constructive, citizen-led action. To speak up for what’s important to them, to speak up for Ireland,” she said. “ We the Citizens plan to show some practical and productive ways of doing that.”
The Professor of Politics in UCD, David Farrell, will lead a comprehensive academic study of the process and the outcomes. His research colleagues are Dr Jane Suiter of UCC, Dr Eoin O’Malley of DCU and Dr Elaine Byrne of TCD. There will also be a high-level international advisory board of academics with experience of best practice in relation to citizens’ assemblies in other countries.
Professor Farrell told the launch that citizens’ assemblies have been used successfully in other countries. “They are a new and innovative way of allowing citizens to be actively involved in taking important decisions that affect our daily lives. Citizens are given the opportunity to be informed, to consider and debate all side of an argument: they are able then to take decisions on what are often quite complex issues,” he said.
“Citizens’ assemblies are a tried and tested method of giving citizens the opportunity to engage directly in important decisions about their own political system.”
“I have some personal experience of this, having participated as an expert witness to a number of them (in British Columbia, Ontario and the Netherlands), and I’m delighted that we have the opportunity to demonstrate how this method can also work here”, added Professor Farrell.
We the Citizens is being steered by a Board of people who have distinguished themselves as Irish citizens across the private, public and NGO sectors and who are giving their time and expertise, entirely pro bono.
We the Citizens is being organised in association with the Irish Universities Association the representative body for the seven Irish universities. IUA Chief Executive, Ned Costello, said that the Association was glad to give its endorsement and support for the initiative. “This is an important contribution to national debate on the future of our political system and processes. The joint involvement of academia and society in that dialogue underlines the value which the universities place on community engagement”, he said.
We the Citizens is funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies.
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