When Citizens Assemble

When Citizens Assemble


[Music] Well, you see, life’s not black and white and many people with strongly-held views on abortion are in the black area or the white area but I believe the vast amount of people are in the grey area in between. [Music] We have, in Ireland, a serious history of neglecting women’s health, women’s rights. We still have in our Constitution, that the woman’s place is in the home. You know, there’s this sort of notion that it’s like irresponsible floozies going out and just having sex with random people and they end up pregnant and those, they don’t deserve. Who are any of us to judge? How do we know any circumstance in which people are? And, you know, people have a very narrow view but the narrative has been opened up in Ireland. The political dynamite issues here
are mainly, probably, have to do with religious issues. So, the referendum that we did have on, was same-sex marriage. That was a pretty, big issue here. One of the things that the Constitution, sorry, the Citizens’ Assembly is doing now is Repeal the 8th, which is abortion. That’s also a very politically sensitive issue here
in, in Ireland. A lot of the points were kind of very, many people would regard them as archaic, many people would regard them
as very important and would make their electoral decisions solely based on that point. So they’re very, very divisive issues here although they might seem strange for an international audience. [Music] If you’re trying to win a seat in a certain county, or electoral area, and this is a very important topic to 5%, or 10% of people living in that area, and they say: “I will not vote for you if you do anything with this at all, if you approve a referendum.” You’re going to
lose your seat. So what we have, in a way, is a lot of people who don’t want to discuss it or want to keep this issue off the agenda because they’re afraid of losing their seat. And what that means is effectively a small minority of people can, you know, keep an item off the agenda. I think this issue, in Ireland, could never have gotten to the point
we’re at today, were it not for the Citizens’ Assembly. I don’t, I think we would have been years getting there, if we ever got there. [Music] Ireland has one of the most restrictive regimes against abortion in Europe. You know, one of the most restrictive. And that, clearly, that’s not a position that can, can last, you know. We’re already being condemned by international agencies for the particular position that
we find ourselves in, as a Republic. And this goes right back to the original referendum
in 1983 to insert an anti-abortion clause
into our Constitution, in the first instance so now, having had it inserted into
our Constitution, we’ve been trapped ever since,
with that, and there’ve been various efforts throughout the decades since 1983 to try and, try and clarify,
resolve or improve the situation as it currently stands. And none of
them have worked. And it’s, it, in many ways, this is the best chance we now have, as a result of the deliberations of the Citizens’ Assembly, to finally get some
political momentum on changing our Constitution. [Music] So my name’s Louise, I’m 39,
I’m a mom of three and I’m a self-employed events manager. My name is John Long
I’m 56 years old I come from the second city
in Ireland, which is Cork. My name’s David Keogh I’m a 47-year-old truck driver. I live in Kildare town. I’m Noreen O’Flynn. I’m a 22-year-old student from Cork
in the south of Ireland. [Music] I was quite afraid, coming the first day, I was nervous. It was 98 other people that I have never met before. And we all kind of, I walked in, and I met people, kind of similar age and we just got all talking and
we were all kind of apprehensive about it but we kind of fell into it quite quickly. It took place over a period
of five months, five weekends, probably,
of 15 or 20 hours of, of sessions, papers, debate and then dozens and dozens of hours of research, and reading, and analysis. So, I would say we probably put a couple of hundred hours of, of total time into it, which is probably more than any parliamentary party committee would have put into it. So, we’re probably the best-informed amateurs in the country on this topic at the moment. It’s been a very difficult process, I’d be honest, it hasn’t
been a walk in the park. You know, some of the sessions were very difficult. The energy has been very tough, you know, it’s been, you know, it’s not an easy topic and some of the presentations were very difficult to listen to. But, em, but yeah, I think as a group I think we’ve managed to, I suppose,
support each other through that. Unlike some of the debates that have taken place in referenda in the past in Ireland, the Citizens’ Assembly was very respectful and, ah, and very congenial to everybody’s opinion. So, there was no major arguments or disputes here at the Citizens’ Assembly, even though there was serious disagreements, as there would always be on this subject. I came in pro-choice, okay, but I came in pro-choice like most citizens of the country – uninformed, or informed my own way. But we found that, some of the sessions that we had, we were given legal, we were given medical,
we were given ethical, moral, religious, and then social, as well, and then the advocacy groups, as well, we had all of them too. But I found, that, first of all, that some of the sessions, like the legal and the medical,
were head melting because there was so much information and I’m not a lawyer,
and I’m not a doctor, so we didn’t understand half of it. So that was like: “How am I
gonna process this?” But the mechanism that they had set up with the, with the assembly, how it was done, question and answer, roundtable discussions and everything, and the presenters of the speeches and that hung around and answered your question. And it wasn’t the case that it was a stupid question, it didn’t have to be a stupid question, or it could
be a stupid question, it was answered. But you always felt, at the end of it, you understood what it was that they were telling you. I thought I knew a lot about it but I’ve learned that it’s not just,
it wasn’t just about abortion. There was, there was a whole, other side to the 8th amendment that I had never really, really thought of coming up to it, which is just general health care for women. I wouldn’t say that the process has changed
my view terribly much but it has significantly deepened my understanding of the
topic, of, I suppose, the legal framework for it,
the medical framework and then the social framework of the implications of the 8th Amendment. So, yeah, my understanding would have increased exponentially. For myself, personally I probably
would have been in the middle, you know, not
I wouldn’t have been a pro-life, your typical pro-life position I would have been in the middle where, I would have been strongly in favour of Ireland liberate liberalising its abortion laws to take in, topics like foetal fatal abnormality, rape, incest, you know, risk to the life
and the health of the mother, and so on, so forth but, as as the time went on and as we were getting more and more information, and as it was totally fact-based, unbiased totally, I saw myself moving and I think a lot of people actually did here I was surprised, started moving to a pro-choice position, to the extent that we surprised the whole country when we came, when we voted it at the end of, of that section, that we voted for radically liberalising the abortion laws in Ireland. [Music] So there’s no certainty, at this particular moment in time, there’s no certainty about what the outcome will be on the abortion question. The Citizens’ Assembly has produced a very well-considered report. I think it surprised all observers, it’s safe to say, in terms of the, how far the Citizens’ Assembly want to take the liberalising of our abortion legislation in this country. [Gull calls] My name is Jonathan Victory,
I’m a filmmaker and I’ve been doing some journalist and activist work around
the Constitutional Convention, the Citizens’ Assembly and all the political reform issues
happening in Ireland. I was in college when the financial crisis was unfolding in Ireland. And, at the end of 2010, there was a decision that Ireland would enter a bailout programme with the EU and the IMF, and that this was being signed off by a government that was the most unpopular government in the history of the state. And, something felt so wrong about there being all this debt incurred from
a corrupt banking sector. And these decisions being made at very high-level, they’d like no deference, like to citizens in terms of a a referendum or anything. There was an election called
at the start of 2011 and around that time, in Ireland, we saw the emergence of
lots of groups that were campaigning for political reform
or institutional reform. They were looking at, basically, at like how did
we get into this mess? It’s a, it’s hard to describe it today just how bad it was, really, how scary it was to live through.
And we were in the teeth of the worst economic crisis in our history. And various parts of the academic community seemed to be getting involved
in debates about the crisis, particularly the economists. So, I was one of a small group
of political scientists who decided that we try and emulate what the economists
seemed to be doing. So we had a blog that had already been established by others but we sort of took it on much more proactively as a group called https://politicalreform.ie/ And we started to promote the idea of citizen-oriented debates
about political reform. [Music] Citizens, when you leave them, to these, you know, assemblies, without much in the way of control over top of them, they don’t actually make crazy,
reckless decisions. And there have been assemblies
in other areas of the world too. I mean there’ve been assemblies in Canada, for example, on electoral reform. Actually, they get together and they talk and they come to compromises and
they do consider things. So, there’s not really a major mystery of how to do this. You just randomly select some people, which we already do anyway when we, when we, do jury service. You put them in hotel rooms for a couple of weekends or however long it takes, and see what comes out of it. It’s not just say, a particular type of people that have gone to college and they’ve studied something and they’re all making views in it. You get to hear what the ordinary people, the people that it affects on the ground, how they feel about something. What they would like to change about it, and then go about it in a political manner after gaining all of the information that they’re gonna be gaining from the Citizens’ Assembly. If you’re cynical about
your politicians’ ability to change legislation,
pass legislation, or come up with legislation, but if there’s an issue that’s burning to your society, in general –
have an assembly. So what I hope to see
in coming months, is that the Oireachtas, the parliament committee,
that’s been established to look at the deliberation,
the outcome of the Citizens’ Assembly on abortion, that they, they don’t just put those, recommendations to one side.
I hope they engage in a considered debate about the detail of those recommendations. And I think that’s the best way to use the Citizens’ Assembly as a bolt-on, as an addition to our
representative system of government not a replacement. There just seems to be a political disconnect all over the Western world for the traditional political parties and, this isn’t, it’s, it’s a new layer of democracy. No, you can’t have too much democracy! So this is, this is a new layer. And, democracy, should be, it
should be an expression of the will of the people. So we think here, we’re an expression of the
will of the people. Democracy is, em, just representing people’s views. Representing what’s going on
on the ground in people’s lives, taking it into Parliament, and fixing it. That’s the idea. Isn’t that it? There’s huge grounds for optimism. We see citizens’ assemblies happening all over the world. We see constitutional change happening, you know, in places like Iceland, where they did a constitutional, a kind of
crowd-sourced constitution. We see a lot of software popping up to help people make decisions democratically, like Liquid Democracy, for example. So, we have
actually great possibilities. Right now, we’re getting a sense around the world, and in Ireland, that, eh, politicians get into power, and, they’re just a bit condescending
or contrarian, They know better than you.
They know how things work. Can’t you just let them get on with it? No. This is our society.
This is our democracy. All we want is to make
decisions together. It’s, it’s not, it’s considered a radical idea democracy but, it’s, you wouldn’t think it’s asking for much. [Music]

Comments

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    Kim Fompeyrine

    Il y a tant de moments où l'on peut se sentir impuissant, dépossédé de toute capacité et accès à faire entendre notre voix, notre opinion, à reprendre en main notre vie à un niveau qui dépasse l'individu, tel que le mouvement des Gilets Jaunes peut le décliner, ce témoignage est immensément bienvenu. Bien plus atteignable et à ma portée, à mon échelle. Merci Mr. Chalmers and Co pour ces 16 minutes d'espoir bien ancré!

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    Fiona Grahame

    excellent – we are about to establish a Citizens' Assembly in Scotland – Ireland has shown us the way

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    Alex Cooper

    A great evolutionary step in the democratic process, Citizens Assemblies should be used on many more divisive issues and are one of the six demands of The Peoples Charter 2019 https://www.change.org/p/uk-parliament-the-peoples-charter-2019-we-demand-democratic-reform

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